Davis, M. H., Meunier, F., and Marslen-Wilson, W.D. (in press) "Neural responses to morphological, syntactic and semantic properties of single words: an fMRI study." Brain and Language
Dissociations in the recognition of specific classes of words have been documented in brain-injured populations. These include deficits in the recognition and production of morphologically complex words as well as impairments specific to particular syntactic classes such as verbs. However, functional imaging evidence for distinctions among the neural systems underlying these dissociations has been inconclusive. We explored the neural systems involved in processing different word classes in a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging study, contrasting four groups of words co-varying morphological complexity (simple, monomorphemic words vs complex derived or inflected words) and syntactic class (verbs vs nouns/adjectives). Subtraction of word from letter string processing showed activation in left frontal and temporal lobe regions consistent with prior studies of visual word processing. No differences were observed for morphologically complex and simple words, despite adequate power to detect stimulus specific effects. A region of posterior left middle temporal gyrus showed significantly increased activation for verbs. Post-hoc analyses showed that this elevated activation could also be related to semantic properties of the stimulus items (verbs have stronger action associations than nouns, and action association is correlated with activation). Results suggest that semantic as well as syntactic factors should be considered when assessing the neural systems involved in single word comprehension.