The perirhinal cortex and conceptual processing: Effects of feature-based statistics following damage to the anterior temporal lobes.


The anterior temporal lobe (ATL) plays a prominent role in models of semantic knowledge, although it remains unclear how the specific subregions within the ATL contribute to semantic memory. Patients with neurodegenerative diseases, like semantic dementia, have widespread damage to the ATL thus making inferences about the relationship between anatomy and cognition problematic. Here we take a detailed anatomical approach to ask which substructures within the ATL contribute to conceptual processing, with the prediction that the perirhinal cortex (PRc) will play a critical role for concepts that are more semantically confusable. We tested two patient groups, those with and without damage to the PRc, across two behavioural experiments - picture naming and word-picture matching. For both tasks, we manipulated the degree of semantic confusability of the concepts. By contrasting the performance of the two groups, along with healthy controls, we show that damage to the PRc results in worse performance in processing concepts with higher semantic confusability across both experiments. Further by correlating the degree of damage across anatomically defined regions of interest with performance, we find that PRc damage is related to performance for concepts with increased semantic confusability. Our results show that the PRc supports a necessary and crucial neurocognitve function that enables fine-grained conceptual processes to take place through the resolution of semantic confusability.