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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

April 2008, Vol. 20, No. 4, Pages 707-720
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2008.20045)
© 2008 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Processing Nouns and Verbs in the Left Frontal Cortex: A Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Study
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Neuropsychological and neurophysiological studies suggest that the production of verbs in speech depends on cortical regions in the left frontal lobe. However, the precise topography of these regions, and their functional roles in verb production, remains matters of debate. In an earlier study with repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), we showed that stimulation to the left anterior midfrontal gyrus disrupted verb production, but not noun production, in a task that required subjects to perform simple morphological alternations. This result raises a number of questions: for example, is the effect of stimulation focal and specific to that brain region? Is the behavioral effect limited to rule-based, regular transformations, or can it be generalized over the grammatical category? In the present study, we used rTMS to suppress the excitability of distinct parts of the left prefrontal cortex to assess their role in producing regular and irregular verbs compared to nouns. We compared rTMS to sham stimulation and to stimulation of homologous areas in the right hemisphere. Response latencies increased for verbs, but were unaffected for nouns, following stimulation to the left anterior midfrontal gyrus. No significant interference specific for verbs resulted after stimulation to two other areas in the left frontal lobe, the posterior midfrontal gyrus and Broca's area. These results therefore reinforce the idea that the left anterior midfrontal cortex is critical for processing verbs. Moreover, none of the regions stimulated was preferentially engaged in the production of regular or irregular inflection, raising questions about the role of the frontal lobes in processing inflectional morphology.