Repetition suppression and semantic enhancement: an investigation of the neural correlates of priming.


The priming of a stimulus by another has become an important tool for exploring the neural underpinnings of conceptual representations. However, priming effects can derive from many different types of relationships and it is important to distinguish between them in order to be able to develop theoretical accounts of the representation of conceptual knowledge. While it is well known that repetition priming (the repeated presentation of the same stimulus) is associated with a reduced neural response, called repetition suppression (RS), the neural correlates of semantic priming (when two stimuli are related in meaning but not identical) are not so well established. We compared the neural correlates of repetition and semantic priming using written words, independently manipulating form and meaning. In an fMRI study, subjects saw single words and made a concrete-abstract decision. Two consecutive words were identical (town-town) or varied along a continuum of semantic relatedness, from highly related (cord-string) to unrelated (face-sail). We found distinct patterns of activation for repetition and semantic priming. Repetition priming was associated with RS in LIFG, bilateral parahippocampal gyrus and R fusiform gyrus. We also observed increased activation for word repetition in the RMFG and RMTG/STG, which may reflect recognition of item's earlier presentation. There was no evidence of suppression for semantic relatedness. Semantic priming was associated with enhanced activation in multiple bilateral fronto-temporal areas, i.e. semantic enhancement. The results suggest that repetition and semantic priming in visual word recognition depend on distinct cognitive processes and neural substrates.