Memory Traces for Spoken Words in the Brain as Revealed by the Hemodynamic Correlate of the Mismatch Negativity

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The mismatch negativity response, considered a brain correlate of automatic preattentive auditory processing, is enhanced for word stimuli as compared with acoustically matched pseudowords. This lexical enhancement, taken as a signature of activation of language-specific long-term memory traces, was investigated here using functional magnetic resonance imaging to complement the previous electrophysiological studies. In passive oddball paradigm, word stimuli were randomly presented as rare deviants among frequent pseudowords; the reverse conditions employed infrequent pseudowords among word stimuli. Random-effect analysis indicated clearly distinct patterns for the different lexical types. Whereas the hemodynamic mismatch response was significant for the word deviants, it did not reach significance for the pseudoword conditions. This difference, more pronounced in the left than right hemisphere, was also assessed by analyzing average parameter estimates in regions of interests within both temporal lobes. A significant hemisphere-by-lexicality interaction confirmed stronger blood oxygenation level–dependent mismatch responses to words than pseudowords in the left but not in the right superior temporal cortex. The increased left superior temporal activation and the laterality of cortical sources elicited by spoken words compared with pseudowords may indicate the activation of cortical circuits for lexical material even in passive oddball conditions and suggest involvement of the left superior temporal areas in housing such word-processing neuronal circuits.

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