Evidence of semantic processing impairments in behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia and Parkinson's disease

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Purpose of review

Category-specific impairments caused by brain damage can provide important insights into how semantic concepts are organized in the brain. Recent research has demonstrated that disease to sensory and motor cortices can impair perceptual feature knowledge important to the representation of semantic concepts. This evidence supports the grounded cognition theory of semantics, the view that lexical knowledge is partially grounded in perceptual experience and that sensory and motor regions support semantic representations. Less well understood, however, is how heteromodal semantic hubs work to integrate and process semantic information.

Recent findings

Although the majority of semantic research to date has focused on how sensory cortical areas are important for the representation of semantic features, new research explores how semantic memory is affected by neurodegeneration in regions important for semantic processing. Here, we review studies that demonstrate impairments to abstract noun knowledge in behavioural variant frontotemporal degeneration (bvFTD) and to action verb knowledge in Parkinson's disease, and discuss how these deficits relate to disease of the semantic selection network.


Findings demonstrate that semantic selection processes are supported by the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) and basal ganglia, and that disease to these regions in bvFTD and Parkinson's disease can lead to categorical impairments for abstract nouns and action verbs, respectively.

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