The Roles of Left Versus Right Anterior Temporal Lobes in Conceptual Knowledge: An ALE Meta-analysis of 97 Functional Neuroimaging Studies

Cereb Cortex. 2015 Nov;25(11):4374-91. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhv024. Epub 2015 Mar 13.


The roles of the right and left anterior temporal lobes (ATLs) in conceptual knowledge are a source of debate between 4 conflicting accounts. Possible ATL specializations include: (1) Processing of verbal versus non-verbal inputs; (2) the involvement of word retrieval; and (3) the social content of the stimuli. Conversely, the "hub-and-spoke" account holds that both ATLs form a bilateral functionally unified system. Using activation likelihood estimation (ALE) to compare the probability of left and right ATL activation, we analyzed 97 functional neuroimaging studies of conceptual knowledge, organized according to the predictions of the three specialized hypotheses. The primary result was that ATL activation was predominately bilateral and highly overlapping for all stimulus types. Secondary to this bilateral representation, there were subtle gradations both between and within the ATLs. Activations were more likely to be left lateralized when the input was a written word or when word retrieval was required. These data are best accommodated by a graded version of the hub-and-spoke account, whereby representation of conceptual knowledge is supported through bilateral yet graded connectivity between the ATLs and various modality-specific sensory, motor, and limbic cortices.

Keywords: ALE meta-analysis; anterior temporal lobes; conceptual knowledge; laterality; semantic memory.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping
  • Concept Formation / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Likelihood Functions*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Positron-Emission Tomography*
  • Semantics
  • Temporal Lobe / blood supply
  • Temporal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Verbal Learning


  • Oxygen