Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
On the assumption that linguistic faculties reflect both lexical storage in the temporal cortex and combinatorial rules in the striatal circuits, several authors have shown that striatal-damaged patients are impaired with conjugation rules while retaining lexical knowledge of irregular verbs [Teichmann, M., Dupoux, E., Kouider, S., Brugières, P., Boissé, M. F., Baudic, S., Cesaro, P., Peschanski, M., & Bachoud-Lévi, A. C. (2005). The role of the striatum in rule application. The model of Huntington's disease at early stage. Brain, 128, 1155–1167; Ullman, M. T., Corkin, S., Coppola, M., Hickok, G., Growdon, J. H., Koroshetz, W. J., & Pinker, S. (1997). A neural dissociation within language: Evidence that the mental dictionary is part of declarative memory, and that grammatical rules are processed by the procedural system. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 9, 266–276]. Yet, such impairment was documented only with explicit conjugation tasks in the production domain. Little is known about whether it generalizes to other language modalities such as perception and whether it refers to implicit language processing or rather to intentional rule operations through executive functions. We investigated these issues by assessing perceptive processing of conjugated verb forms in a model of striatal dysfunction, namely, in Huntington's Disease (HD) at early stages. Rule application and lexical processes were evaluated in an explicit task (acceptability judgments on verb and nonword forms) and in an implicit task (lexical decision on frequency-manipulated verb forms). HD patients were also assessed in executive functions, and striatal atrophy was evaluated with magnetic resonance imaging (bicaudate ratio). Results from both tasks showed that HD patients were selectively impaired for rule application but lexical abilities were spared. Bicaudate ratios correlated with rule scores on both tasks, whereas executive parameters only correlated with scores on the explicit task. We argue that the striatum has a core function in linguistic rule application generalizing to perceptive aspects of morphological operations and pertaining to implicit language processes. In addition, we suggest that the striatum may enclose computational circuits that underpin explicit manipulation of regularities.