The Different Neural Correlates of Action and Functional Knowledge in Semantic Memory: An fMRI Study

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Previous reports suggest that the internal organization of semantic memory is in terms of different “types of knowledge,” including “sensory” (information about perceptual features), “action” (motor-based knowledge of object utilization), and “functional” (abstract properties, as function and context of use). Consistent with this view, a specific loss of action knowledge, with preserved functional knowledge, has been recently observed in patients with left frontoparietal lesions. The opposite pattern (impaired functional knowledge with preserved action knowledge) was reported in association with anterior inferotemporal lesions. In the present study, the cerebral representation of action and functional knowledge was investigated using event-related analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging data. Fifteen subjects were presented with pictures showing pairs of manipulable objects and asked whether the objects within each pair were used with the same manipulation pattern (“action knowledge” condition) or in the same context (“functional knowledge” condition). Direct comparisons showed action knowledge, relative to functional knowledge, to activate a left frontoparietal network, comprising the intraparietal sulcus, the inferior parietal lobule, and the dorsal premotor cortex. The reverse comparison yielded activations in the retrosplenial and the lateral anterior inferotemporal cortex. These results confirm and extend previous neuropsychological data and support the hypothesis of the existence of different types of information processing in the internal organization of semantic memory.

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