Separate Brain Circuits Support Integrative and Semantic Priming in the Human Language System

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Semantic priming is a crucial phenomenon to study the organization of semantic memory. A novel type of priming effect, integrative priming, has been identified behaviorally, whereby a prime word facilitates recognition of a target word when the 2 concepts can be combined to form a unitary representation. We used both functional and anatomical imaging approaches to investigate the neural substrates supporting such integrative priming, and compare them with those in semantic priming. Similar behavioral priming effects for both semantic (Bread–Cake) and integrative conditions (Cherry–Cake) were observed when compared with an unrelated condition. However, a clearly dissociated brain response was observed between these 2 types of priming. The semantic-priming effect was localized to the posterior superior temporal and middle temporal gyrus. In contrast, the integrative-priming effect localized to the left anterior inferior frontal gyrus and left anterior temporal cortices. Furthermore, fiber tractography showed that the integrative-priming regions were connected via uncinate fasciculus fiber bundle forming an integrative circuit, whereas the semantic-priming regions connected to the posterior frontal cortex via separated pathways. The results point to dissociable neural pathways underlying the 2 distinct types of priming, illuminating the neural circuitry organization of semantic representation and integration.

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