Neural correlates of successful semantic processing during propofol sedation.


Sedation has a graded effect on brain responses to auditory stimuli: perceptual processing persists at sedation levels that attenuate more complex processing. We used fMRI in healthy volunteers sedated with propofol to assess changes in neural responses to spoken stimuli. Volunteers were scanned awake, sedated, and during recovery, while making perceptual or semantic decisions about nonspeech sounds or spoken words respectively. Sedation caused increased error rates and response times, and differentially affected responses to words in the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) and the left inferior temporal gyrus (LITG). Activity in LIFG regions putatively associated with semantic processing, was significantly reduced by sedation despite sedated volunteers continuing to make accurate semantic decisions. Instead, LITG activity was preserved for words greater than nonspeech sounds and may therefore be associated with persistent semantic processing during the deepest levels of sedation. These results suggest functionally distinct contributions of frontal and temporal regions to semantic decision making. These results have implications for functional imaging studies of language, for understanding mechanisms of impaired speech comprehension in postoperative patients with residual levels of anesthetic, and may contribute to the development of frameworks against which EEG based monitors could be calibrated to detect awareness under anesthesia. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.