Spatiotemporal imaging of cortical activation during verb generation and picture naming


One hundred and fifty years of neurolinguistic research has identified the key structures in the human brain that support language. However, neither the classic neuropsychological approaches introduced by Broca (1861) and Wernicke (1874), nor modern neuroimaging employing PET and fMRI has been able to delineate the temporal flow of language processing in the human brain. We recorded the electrocorticogram (ECoG) from indwelling electrodes over left hemisphere language cortices during two common language tasks, verb generation and picture naming. We observed that the very high frequencies of the ECoG (high-gamma, 70–160 Hz) track language processing with spatial and temporal precision. Serial progression of activations is seen at a larger timescale, showing distinct stages of perception, semantic association/selection, and speech production. Within the areas supporting each of these larger processing stages, parallel (or “incremental”) processing is observed. In addition to the traditional posterior vs. anterior localization for speech perception vs. production, we provide novel evidence for the role of premotor cortex in speech perception and of Wernicke’s and surrounding cortex in speech production. The data are discussed with regards to current leading models of speech perception and production, and a “dual ventral stream” hybrid of leading speech perception models is given.