Semantics of the visual environment encoded in parahippocampal cortex

Michael F. Bonner, Amy Rose Price, Jonathan E. Peelle, Murray Grossman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Semantic representations capture the statistics of experience and store this information in memory. A fundamental component of this memory system is knowledge of the visual environment, including knowledge of objects and their associations. Visual semantic information underlies a range of behaviors, from perceptual categorization to cognitive processes such as language and reasoning. Here we examine the neuroanatomic system that encodes visual semantics. Across three experiments, we found converging evidence indicating that knowledge of verbally mediated visual concepts relies on information encoded in a region of the ventralmedial temporal lobe centered on parahippocampal cortex. In an fMRI study, this region was strongly engaged by the processing of concepts relying on visual knowledge but not by concepts relying on other sensory modalities. In a study of patients with the semantic variant of primary progressive aphasia (semantic dementia), atrophy that encompassed this region was associated with a specific impairment in verbally mediated visual semantic knowledge. Finally, in a structural study of healthy adults from the fMRI experiment, gray matter density in this region related to individual variability in the processing of visual concepts. The anatomic location of these findings aligns with recent work linking the ventral-medial temporal lobe with high-level visual representation, contextual associations, and reasoning through imagination. Together, this work suggests a critical role for parahippocampal cortex in linking the visual environment with knowledge systems in the human brain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-378
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


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