Schomers, M.R., Kirilina, E., Weigand, A., Bajbouj, M., Pulvermüller, F. 2015. Causal influence of articulatory motor cortex on comprehending single spoken words: TMS evidence

News vom 24.11.2014

Classic wisdom had been that motor and premotor cortex contribute to motor execution but not to higher cognition and language comprehension. In contrast, mounting evidence from neuroimaging, patient research, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) suggest sensorimotor interaction and, specifically, that the articulatory motor cortex is important for classifying meaningless speech sounds into phonemic categories. However, whether these findings speak to the comprehension issue is unclear, because language comprehension does not require explicit phonemic classification and previous results may therefore relate to factors alien to semantic understanding. We here used the standard psycholinguistic test of spoken word comprehension, the word-to-picture-matching task, and concordant TMS to articulatory motor cortex. TMS pulses were applied to primary motor cortex controlling either the lips or the tongue as subjects heard critical word stimuli starting with bilabial lip-related or alveolar tongue-related stop consonants (e.g., “pool” or “tool”). A significant cross-over interaction showed that articulatory motor cortex stimulation delayed comprehension responses for phonologically incongruent words relative to congruous ones (i.e., lip area TMS delayed “tool” relative to “pool” responses). As local TMS to articulatory motor areas differentially delays the comprehension of phonologically incongruous spoken words, we conclude that motor systems can take a causal role in semantic comprehension and, hence, higher cognition.

Schomers, M.R., Kirilina, E., Weigand, A., Bajbouj, M., Pulvermüller, F. (2015) Causal influence of articulatory motor cortex on comprehending single spoken words: TMS evidence. Cerebral Cortex, 25(10), 3894-3902. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhu274.

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