Concepts bind together the features commonly associated with objects and events to form networks in long-term semantic memory. These conceptual networks are the basis of human knowledge and underlie perception, imagination, and the ability to communicate about experiences and the contents of the environment. Although it is often assumed that this distributed semantic information is integrated in higher-level heteromodal association cortices, open questions remain about the role and anatomic basis of heteromodal representations in semantic memory. Here we used combined neuroimaging evidence from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to characterize the cortical networks underlying concept representation. Using a lexical decision task, we examined the processing of concepts in four semantic categories that varied on their sensory-motor feature associations (sight, sound, manipulation, and abstract). We found that the angular gyrus was activated across all categories regardless of their modality-specific feature associations, consistent with a heteromodal account for the angular gyrus. Exploratory analyses suggested that categories with weighted sensory-motor features additionally recruited modality-specific association cortices. Furthermore, DTI tractography identified white matter tracts connecting these regions of modality-specific functional activation with the angular gyrus. These findings are consistent with a distributed semantic network that includes a heteromodal, integrative component in the angular gyrus in combination with sensory-motor feature representations in modality-specific association cortices.
- Semantic memory