The schizophrenia syndrome is clinically characterized by abnormal constructions of meaning during comprehension (delusions), perception (hallucinations), action (disorganized and non-goal-directed behavior) and language production (thought disorder). This article provides an overview of recent studies from our laboratory that have used event-related potentials and functional magnetic resonance imaging to elucidate abnormalities in temporal and spatial patterns of neural activity as meaning is built from language and real-world visual events in schizophrenia. Our findings support the hypothesis that automatic activity across semantic memory spreads further within a shorter period of time in thought-disordered patients, relative to non-thought-disordered patients and healthy controls. Neuroanatomically, increased activity to semantic associates is reflected by inappropriate recruitment of temporal cortices. In building meaning within sentences, the fine balance between semantic memory-based mechanisms and semantic-syntactic integration (dictating "who does what to whom") is disrupted, such that comprehension is driven primarily by semantic memory-based processes. Neuroanatomically, this imbalance is reflected by preserved (and sometimes increased) activity within temporal and inferior prefrontal cortices, but abnormal modulation of dorsolateral prefrontal and parietal cortices. In building meaning across sentences (discourse), patients fail to immediately construct coherence links, but may show inappropriate recruitment of temporal and inferior prefrontal cortices to incoherent discourse, again reflecting inappropriate semantic memory-based processing (abnormal inferencing). Finally, these abnormalities may generalize to real-world visual event comprehension, where patients show reduced neural activity in determining relationships around goal-directed actions, and comprehension is again dominated by semantic memory-based mechanisms.
BACKGROUND: Schizophrenia symptoms can be conceptualized in terms of a breakdown of a balance between 1) activating, retrieving, and matching stored representations to incoming information (semantic memory-based processing) and 2) fully integrating activated semantic representations with one another and with other types of representations to form a gestalt representation of meaning (semantic integration). Semantic memory-based processes are relatively more dependent on inferior frontal and temporal cortices, whereas particularly demanding integrative processes additionally recruit the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and sometimes parietal cortices. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine whether the modulation of temporal/inferior frontal cortices and the DLPFC can be neuroanatomically dissociated in schizophrenia, as semantic integration demands increase. Integration demands were manipulated by varying the nature (concrete vs. abstract) and the congruity (incongruous vs. congruous) of words within sentences. METHODS: Sixteen right-handed schizophrenia patients and 16 healthy volunteers, matched on age and parental socioeconomic status, underwent event-related fMRI scanning while they read sentences. Blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) effects were contrasted to words within sentences that were 1) concrete versus abstract and 2) semantically incongruous versus congruous with their preceding contexts. RESULTS: In both contrasts, large networks mediating the activation and retrieval of verbal and imagistic representations were normally modulated in patients. However, unlike control subjects, patients failed to recruit the DLPFC, medial frontal and parietal cortices to incongruous (relative to congruous) sentences, and failed to recruit the DLPFC to concrete (relative to abstract) sentences. CONCLUSIONS: As meaning is built from language, schizophrenia patients demonstrate a neuroanatomical dissociation in the modulation of temporal/inferior frontal cortices and the DLPFC.
It has been proposed that the loose associations characteristic of thought disorder in schizophrenia result from an abnormal increase in the automatic spread of activation through semantic memory. We tested this hypothesis by examining the time course of neural semantic priming using event-related potentials (ERPs). ERPs were recorded to target words that were directly related, indirectly related, and unrelated to their preceding primes, while thought-disordered (TD) and non-TD schizophrenia patients and healthy controls performed an implicit semantic categorization task under experimental conditions that encouraged automatic processing. By 300-400 milliseconds after target word onset, TD patients showed increased indirect semantic priming relative to non-TD patients and healthy controls, while the degree of direct semantic priming was increased in only the most severely TD patients. By 400-500 milliseconds after target word onset, both direct and indirect semantic priming were generally equivalent across the 3 groups. These findings demonstrate for the first time at a neural level that, under automatic conditions, activation across the semantic network spreads further within a shorter period of time in specific association with positive thought disorder in schizophrenia.
To make sense of a sentence, we must compute morphosyntactic and semantic-thematic relationships between its verbs and arguments and evaluate the resulting propositional meaning against any preceding context and our real-world knowledge. Recent electrophysiological studies suggest that, in comparison with non-violated verbs (e.g. "...at breakfast the boys would eat..."), animacy semantic-thematically violated verbs (e.g. "...at breakfast the eggs would eat...") and morphosyntactically violated verbs (e.g. "...at breakfast the boys would eats...") evoke a similar neural response. This response is distinct from that evoked by verbs that only violate real-world knowledge (e.g. "...at breakfast the boys would plant..."). Here we used fMRI to examine the neuroanatomical regions engaged in response to these three violations. Real-world violations, relative to other sentence types, led to increased activity within the left anterior inferior frontal cortex, reflecting participants' increased and prolonged efforts to retrieve semantic knowledge about the likelihood of events occurring in the real world. In contrast, animacy semantic-thematic violations of the actions depicted by the central verbs engaged a frontal/inferior parietal/basal ganglia network known to mediate the execution and comprehension of goal-directed action. We suggest that the recruitment of this network reflected a semantic-thematic combinatorial process that involved an attempt to determine whether the actions described by the verbs could be executed by their NP Agents. Intriguingly, this network was also activated to morphosyntactic violations between the verbs and their subject NP arguments. Our findings support the pattern of electrophysiological findings in suggesting (a) that a clear division within the semantic system plays out during sentence comprehension, and (b) that semantic-thematic and syntactic violations of verbs within simple active sentences are treated similarly by the brain.
This study examined how task (implicit vs. explicit) and semantic relationship (direct vs. indirect) modulated hemodynamic activity during lexico-semantic processing. Participants viewed directly related, indirectly related, and unrelated prime-target word-pairs as they performed (a) an implicit lexical decision (LD) task in which they decided whether each target was a real word or a nonword, and (b) an explicit relatedness judgment (RJ) task in which they determined whether each word-pair was related or unrelated in meaning. Task influenced both the polarity and neuroanatomical localization of hemodynamic modulation. Semantic relationship influenced the neuroanatomical localization of hemodynamic modulation. The implicit LD task was primarily associated with inferior prefrontal and ventral inferior temporal/fusiform hemodynamic response suppression to directly related (relative to unrelated) word-pairs, and with more widespread temporal-occipital response suppression to indirectly related (relative to unrelated) word-pairs. In contrast, the explicit RJ task was primarily associated with left inferior parietal hemodynamic response enhancement to both directly and indirectly related (relative to unrelated) word-pairs, as well as with additional left inferior prefrontal hemodynamic response enhancement to indirectly related (relative to unrelated) word-pairs. These findings are discussed in relation to the specific neurocognitive processes thought to underlie implicit and explicit semantic processes. Hum Brain Mapp, 2008. (c) 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
The present study dissociated the immediate neural costs from the subsequent neural consequences of integrating time shifts into our mental representations of events. Event-related potentials were recorded as participants read scenarios that included words referring to short temporal shifts (e.g., after one second), moderate temporal shifts (e.g., after one hour), or long temporal shifts (e.g., after one year). These words were followed by repeated noun-phrase anaphors, which are preferred as referents for information no longer in attentional focus. The N400 was measured as an index of online conceptual integration. As the discourse unfolded, the N400 was larger for long- (e.g.,year) than for short- (e.g., second) shift words. For the anaphor, the N400 was modulated in the opposite direction. Thus, the introduction of a temporal discontinuity leads to immediate neural integration costs, as well as to decreased accessibility of earlier information.
How do comprehenders build up overall meaning representations of visual real-world events? This question was examined by recording event-related potentials (ERPs) while participants viewed short, silent movie clips depicting everyday events. In two experiments, it was demonstrated that presentation of the contextually inappropriate information in the movie endings evoked an anterior negativity. This effect was similar to the N400 component whose amplitude has been previously reported to inversely correlate with the strength of semantic relationship between the context and the eliciting stimulus in word and static picture paradigms. However, a second, somewhat later, ERP component--a posterior late positivity--was evoked specifically when target objects presented in the movie endings violated goal-related requirements of the action constrained by the scenario context (e.g., an electric iron that does not have a sharp-enough edge was used in place of a knife in a cutting bread scenario context). These findings suggest that comprehension of the visual real world might be mediated by two neurophysiologically distinct semantic integration mechanisms. The first mechanism, reflected by the anterior N400-like negativity, maps the incoming information onto the connections of various strengths between concepts in semantic memory. The second mechanism, reflected by the posterior late positivity, evaluates the incoming information against the discrete requirements of real-world actions. We suggest that there may be a tradeoff between these mechanisms in their utility for integrating across people, objects, and actions during event comprehension, in which the first mechanism is better suited for familiar situations, and the second mechanism is better suited for novel situations.
Our brains rapidly map incoming language onto what we hold to be true. Yet there are claims that such integration and verification processes are delayed in sentences containing negation words like not. However, studies have often confounded whether a statement is true and whether it is a natural thing to say during normal communication. In an event-related potential (ERP) experiment, we aimed to disentangle effects of truth value and pragmatic licensing on the comprehension of affirmative and negated real-world statements. As in affirmative sentences, false words elicited a larger N400 ERP than did true words in pragmatically licensed negated sentences (e.g., "In moderation, drinking red wine isn't bad/good..."), whereas true and false words elicited similar responses in unlicensed negated sentences (e.g., "A baby bunny's fur isn't very hard/soft..."). These results suggest that negation poses no principled obstacle for readers to immediately relate incoming words to what they hold to be true.