Higher cognitive function reflects the interaction of a network of multiple brain regions. Previous investigations have plotted out these networks using functional or structural connectivity approaches. While these map the topography of the regions involved, they do not explore the key aspect of this neuroscience principle-namely that the regions interact in a dynamic fashion. Here, we achieved this aim with respect to semantic memory. Although converging evidence implicates the anterior temporal lobes (ATLs), bilaterally, as a crucial component in semantic representation, the underlying neural interplay between the ATLs remains unclear. By combining continuous theta-burst stimulation (cTBS) with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we perturbed the left ventrolateral ATL (vATL) and investigated acute changes in neural activity and effective connectivity of the semantic system. cTBS resulted in decreased activity at the target region and compensatory, increased activity at the contralateral vATL. In addition, there were task-specific increases in effective connectivity between the vATLs, reflecting an increased facilitatory intrinsic connectivity from the right to left vATL. Our results suggest that semantic representation is founded on a flexible, adaptive bilateral neural system and reveals an adaptive plasticity-based mechanism that might support functional recovery after unilateral damage in neurological patients.
Keywords: anterior temporal lobe; bilateral system; cTBS; fMRI; semantic representation.
© The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press.