N400 evidence of abnormal responses to speech in Alzheimer's disease

Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol. 1996 Sep;99(3):235-46. doi: 10.1016/0013-4694(96)95049-x.


The status of semantic priming in Alzheimer's disease (AD) was examined using the speech elicited N400 component of the event-related brain potential (ERP). Speech was naturally paced, with 1 s of silence before the final word. In the semantic task, subjects attended to the meaning of the sentences for a subsequent memory test. In the phonemic monitoring task, they counted the words beginning with the letter 'p'. The effects of age were assessed by comparing young and elderly, and the effects of disease by comparing elderly and AD subjects. In healthy young and elderly subjects, N400s were large to semantically unprimed words and small to semantically primed words. In AD subjects, N400s were large to primed words, reflecting a failure of the sentence stem to prime the final word, and probably an impairment in semantic knowledge. The N400 priming effect was not smaller during the phonemic than semantic task in any group, suggesting that the semantic qualities of speech are processed even when subjects are attending to phonemic qualities. N400 latency was delayed with age and further delayed with dementia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology*
  • Evoked Potentials*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Scalp / physiopathology
  • Semantics
  • Speech Perception / physiology*