Distributed neuronal networks for encoding category-specific semantic information: the mismatch negativity to action words
Mismatch negativity (MMN), an index of experience-dependent memory traces, was used to investigate the processing of action-related words in the human brain. Responses to auditorily presented movement-related English words were recorded in a non-attend odd-ball protocol using a high-density electroencephalographic (EEG) set-up. MMN was calculated using responses to the same words presented as standard and deviant stimuli in different sessions to avoid contamination from phonetic–acoustic differences. The topography of the mismatch negativity to action words revealed an unusual centro-posterior distribution of the responses, suggesting that activity was at least in part generated posterior to usually observed frontal MMNs. Moreover, responses to hand-related word stimulus (pick) had a more widespread lateral distribution, whereas leg-related stimulus (kick) elicited a more focal dorsal negativity. These differences, remarkably reminiscent of sensorimotor cortex topography, were further assessed using distributed source analysis of the EEG signal (L2 minimum-norm current estimates). The source analysis also confirmed differentially distributed activation for the two stimuli. We suggest that these results indicate activation of distributed neuronal assemblies that function as category-specific memory traces for words and may involve sensorimotor cortical structures for encoding action words.