Brain correlates of action word memory revealed by fMRI.


Understanding language semantically related to actions activates the motor cortex. This activation is sensitive to semantic information such as the body part used to perform the action (e.g. arm-/leg-related action words). Additionally, motor movements of the hands/feet can have a causal effect on memory maintenance of action words, suggesting that the involvement of motor systems extends to working memory. This study examined brain correlates of verbal memory load for action-related words using event-related fMRI. Seventeen participants saw either four identical or four different words from the same category (arm-/leg-related action words) then performed a nonmatching-to-sample task. Results show that verbal memory maintenance in the high-load condition produced greater activation in left premotor and supplementary motor cortex, along with posterior-parietal areas, indicating that verbal memory circuits for action-related words include the cortical action system. Somatotopic memory load effects of arm- and leg-related words were observed, but only at more anterior cortical regions than was found in earlier studies employing passive reading tasks. These findings support a neurocomputational model of distributed action-perception circuits (APCs), according to which language understanding is manifest as full ignition of APCs, whereas working memory is realized as reverberant activity receding to multimodal prefrontal and lateral temporal areas.