Simultaneous processing of noun cue and to-be-produced verb in verb generation task: Electromagnetic evidence
A long-standing but implicit assumption is that words strongly associated with a presented cue are automatically activated in the memory through rapid spread of activation within brain semantic networks. The current study was aimed to provide direct evidence of such rapid access to words’ semantic representations and to investigate its neural sources using magnetoencephalography (MEG) and distributed source localization technique. Thirty-three neurotypical subjects underwent the MEG recording during verb generation task, which was to produce verbs related to the presented noun cues. Brain responses evoked by the noun cues were examined while manipulating the strength of association between the noun and the potential verb responses. The strong vs. weak noun-verb association led to a greater noun-related neural response at 250–400 ms after cue onset, and faster verb production. The cortical sources of the differential response were localized in left temporal pole, previously implicated in semantic access, and left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC), thought to subserve controlled semantic retrieval. The strength of the left VLPFC’s response to the nouns with strong verb associates was positively correlated to the speed of verbs production. Our findings empirically validate the theoretical expectation that in case of a strongly connected noun-verb pair, successful access to target verb representation may occur already at the stage of lexico-semantic analysis of the presented noun. Moreover, the MEG results suggest that contrary to the previous conclusion derived from fMRI studies left VLPFC supports selection of the target verb representations, even if they were retrieved from semantic memory rapidly and effortlessly. The discordance between MEG and fMRI findings in verb generation task may stem from different modes of neural activation captured by phase-locked activity in MEG and slow changes of blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal in fMRI.