Category: Cortex – Journal

When embodiment breaks down: Language deficits as novel avenues into movement disorders

When embodiment breaks down: Language deficits as novel avenues into movement disorders

Published in: Cortex, Volume 100, March 2018, 1-7

Editorial Brief
“If cognition is broadly shaped by an interplay of embodied mechanisms (Barsalou, 1999; Gallese & Lakoff, 2005; Gentsch, Weber, Synofzik, Vosgerau, & Schutz-Bosbach, 2016; Pulvermüller, 2005; Zwaan, 2014), then cognitive deficits could be profitably reinterpreted as disruptions of embodiment (Birba et al., 2017). Despite its simplicity and obviousness, this straightforward implication has not been systematically assessed in the literature, let alone with a focus on specific target populations featuring systematic disturbances in circumscribed higher-order domains. The present Special Issue seeks to bridge such a gap by delving into the intimate links between movement disorders and impairments of syntax and action language (namely, verbal expressions alluding to bodily movements).”

Written by: Adolfo M. Garcia, Agustin Ibañez
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.12.022

Embodied language and perspective taking in light of movement disorders

Embodied language and perspective taking in light of movement disorders

Published in: Cortex, Volume 100, March 2018, 226-231

Discussion Forum

Written by: Claudia Gianelli
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.11.021

What can autism teach us about the role of sensorimotor systems in higher cognition? New clues from studies on language, action semantics, and abstract emotional concept processing

What can autism teach us about the role of sensorimotor systems in higher cognition? New clues from studies on language, action semantics, and abstract emotional concept processing

Published in: Cortex, Volume 100, March 2018, 149-190

Abstract
“Within the neurocognitive literature there is much debate about the role of the motor system in language, social communication and conceptual processing. We suggest, here, that autism spectrum conditions (ASC) may afford an excellent test case for investigating and evaluating contemporary neurocognitive models, most notably a neurobiological theory of action perception integration where widely-distributed cell assemblies linking neurons in action and perceptual brain regions act as the building blocks of many higher cognitive functions. We review a literature of functional motor abnormalities in ASC, following this with discussion of their neural correlates and aberrancies in language development, explaining how these might arise with reference to the typical formation of cell assemblies linking action and perceptual brain regions. This model gives rise to clear hypotheses regarding language comprehension, and we highlight a recent set of studies reporting differences in brain activation and behaviour in the processing of action-related and abstract-emotional concepts in individuals with ASC. At the neuroanatomical level, we discuss structural differences in long-distance frontotemporal and frontoparietal connections in ASC, such as would compromise information transfer between sensory and motor regions. This neurobiological model of action perception integration may shed light on the cognitive and social-interactive symptoms of ASC, building on and extending earlier proposals linking autistic symptomatology to motor disorder and dysfunction in action perception integration. Further investigating the contribution of motor dysfunction to higher cognitive and social impairment, we suggest, is timely and promising as it may advance both neurocognitive theory and the development of new clinical interventions for this population and others characterised by early and pervasive motor disruption.”

Written by: Rachel L. Moseley, Friedemann Pulvermüller
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.11.019

When syntax meets action: Brain potential evidence of overlapping between language and motor sequencing

When syntax meets action: Brain potential evidence of overlapping between language and motor sequencing

Published in: Cortex, Volume 100, March 2018, 40-51

Abstract
“This study aims to extend the embodied cognition approach to syntactic processing. The hypothesis is that the brain resources to plan and perform motor sequences are also involved in syntactic processing. To test this hypothesis, Event-Related brain Potentials (ERPs) were recorded while participants read sentences with embedded relative clauses, judging for their acceptability (half of the sentences contained a subject-verb morphosyntactic disagreement). The sentences, previously divided into three segments, were self-administered segment-by-segment in two different sequential manners: linear or non-linear. Linear self-administration consisted of successively pressing three buttons with three consecutive fingers in the right hand, while non-linear self-administration implied the substitution of the finger in the middle position by the right foot. Our aim was to test whether syntactic processing could be affected by the manner the sentences were self-administered. Main results revealed that the ERPs LAN component vanished whereas the P600 component increased in response to incorrect verbs, for non-linear relative to linear self-administration. The LAN and P600 components reflect early and late syntactic processing, respectively. Our results convey evidence that language syntactic processing and performing non-linguistic motor sequences may share resources in the human brain.”

Written by: Pilar Casado, Manuel Martin-Loeches, Inmaculada Leon, David Hernandez-Gutierrez, Javier Espuny, Francisco Muñoz, Laura Jimenez-Ortega, Sabela Fondevila, Manuel de Vega
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.11.002

Abstract semantics in the motor system? – An event-related fMRI study on passive reading of semantic word categories carrying abstract emotional and mental meaning

Abstract semantics in the motor system? – An event-related fMRI study on passive reading of semantic word categories carrying abstract emotional and mental meaning

Published in: Cortex, Volume 100, March 2018, 52-70

Abstract
“Previous research showed that modality-preferential sensorimotor areas are relevant for processing concrete words used to speak about actions. However, whether modality-preferential areas also play a role for abstract words is still under debate. Whereas recent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies suggest an involvement of motor cortex in processing the meaning of abstract emotion words as, for example, ‘love’, other non-emotional abstract words, in particular ‘mental words’, such as ‘thought’ or ‘logic’, are believed to engage ‘amodal’ semantic systems only. In the present event-related fMRI experiment, subjects passively read abstract emotional and mental nouns along with concrete action related words. Contrary to expectation, the results indicate a specific involvement of face motor areas in the processing of mental nouns, resembling that seen for face related action words. This result was confirmed when subject-specific regions of interest (ROIs) defined by motor localizers were used. We conclude that a role of motor systems in semantic processing is not restricted to concrete words but extends to at least some abstract mental symbols previously thought to be entirely ‘disembodied’ and divorced from semantically related sensorimotor processing. Implications for neurocognitive theories of semantics and clinical applications will be highlighted, paying specific attention to the role of brain activations as indexes of cognitive processes and their relationships to ‘causal’ studies addressing lesion and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) effects. Possible implications for clinical practice, in particular speech language therapy, are discussed in closing.”

Written by: Felix R. Dreyer, Friedemann Pulvermüller
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.10.021

From meaning to categorization: The hierarchical recruitment of brain circuits selective for action verbs

From meaning to categorization: The hierarchical recruitment of brain circuits selective for action verbs

Published in: Cortex, Volume 100, March 2018, 95-100

Abstract
“Sensorimotor and affective brain systems are known to be involved in language processing. However, to date it is still debated whether this involvement is a crucial step of semantic processing or, on the contrary, it is dependent on the specific context or strategy adopted to solve a task at hand. The present electroencephalographic (EEG) study is aimed at investigating which brain circuits are engaged when processing written verbs. By aligning event-related potentials (ERPs) both to the verb onset and to the motor response indexing the accomplishment of a semantic task of categorization, we were able to dissociate the relative stimulus-related and response-related cognitive components at play, respectively. EEG signal source reconstruction showed that while the recruitment of sensorimotor fronto-parietal circuits was time-locked with action verb onset, a left temporal-parietal circuit was time-locked to the task accomplishment. Crucially, by comparing the time course of both these bottom-up and top-down cognitive components, it appears that the frontal motor involvement precedes the task-related temporal-parietal activity. The present findings suggest that the recruitment of fronto-parietal sensorimotor circuits is independent of the specific strategy adopted to solve a semantic task and, given its temporal hierarchy, it may provide crucial information to brain circuits involved in the categorization task. Eventually, a discussion on how the present results may contribute to the clinical literature on patients affected by disorders specifically impairing the motor system is provided.”

Written by: Riccardo Dalla Volta, Pietro Avanzini, Doriana De Marco, Maurizio Gentilucci, Maddalena Fabbri-Destro
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.09.012

The neural exploitation hypothesis and its implications for an embodied approach to language and cognition: Insights from the study of action verbs processing and motor disorders in Parkinson’s disease

The neural exploitation hypothesis and its implications for an embodied approach to language and cognition: Insights from the study of action verbs processing and motor disorders in Parkinson’s disease

Published in: Cortex, Volume 100, March 2018, 215-225

Abstract
“As it is widely known, Parkinson’s disease is clinically characterized by motor disorders such as the loss of voluntary movement control, including resting tremor, postural instability, and bradykinesia (Bocanegra et al., 2015; Helmich, Hallett, Deuschl, Toni, & Bloem, 2012; Liu et al., 2006; Rosin, Topka, & Dichgans, 1997). In the last years, many empirical studies (e.g., Bocanegra et al., 2015; Spadacenta et al., 2012) have also shown that the processing of action verbs is selectively impaired in patients affected by this neurodegenerative disorder. In the light of these findings, it has been suggested that Parkinson disorder can be interpreted within an embodied cognition framework (e.g., Bocanegra et al., 2015). The central tenet of any embodied approach to language and cognition is that high order cognitive functions are grounded in the sensory-motor system. With regard to this point, Gallese (2008) proposed the neural exploitation hypothesis to account for, at the phylogenetic level, how key aspects of human language are underpinned by brain mechanisms originally evolved for sensory-motor integration. Glenberg and Gallese (2012) also applied the neural exploitation hypothesis to the ontogenetic level. On the basis of these premises, they developed a theory of language acquisition according to which, sensory-motor mechanisms provide a neurofunctional architecture for the acquisition of language, while retaining their original functions as well. The neural exploitation hypothesis is here applied to interpret the profile of patients affected by Parkinson’s disease. It is suggested that action semantic impairments directly tap onto motor disorders. Finally, a discussion of what theory of language is needed to account for the interactions between language and movement disorders is presented.”

Written by: Vittorio Gallese, Valentina Cuccio
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2018.01.010 

Is procedural memory enhanced in Tourette syndrome? Evidence from a sequence learning task

Is procedural memory enhanced in Tourette syndrome? Evidence from a sequence learning task

Published in: Cortex, Volume 100, March 2018, 84-94

Abstract
“Procedural memory, which is rooted in the basal ganglia, underlies the learning and processing of numerous automatized motor and cognitive skills, including in language. Not surprisingly, disorders with basal ganglia abnormalities have been found to show impairments of procedural memory. However, brain abnormalities could also lead to atypically enhanced function. Tourette syndrome (TS) is a candidate for enhanced procedural memory, given previous findings of enhanced TS processing of grammar, which likely depends on procedural memory. We comprehensively examined procedural learning, from memory formation to retention, in children with TS and typically developing (TD) children, who performed an implicit sequence learning task over two days. The children with TS showed sequence learning advantages on both days, despite a regression of sequence knowledge overnight to the level of the TD children. This is the first demonstration of procedural learning advantages in any disorder. The findings may further our understanding of procedural memory and its enhancement. The evidence presented here, together with previous findings suggesting enhanced grammar processing in TS, underscore the dependence of language on a system that also subserves visuomotor sequencing.”

Written by: Adam Takacs, Andrea Kobor, Julia Chezan, Noemi Elteto, Zsanett Tarnock, Dezso Nemeth, Michael T. Ullman, Karolina Janacsek
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.08.037

Production of verbs related to body movement in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson’s Disease (PD)

Production of verbs related to body movement in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson’s Disease (PD)

Published in: Cortex, Volume 100, March 2018, 127-139

Abstract
“Theories of grounded cognition propose that action verb knowledge relies in part on motor processing regions, including premotor cortex. Accordingly, impaired action verb knowledge in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is thought to be due to motor system degeneration. Upper motor neuron disease in ALS degrades the motor cortex and related pyramidal motor system, while disease in PD is centered in the basal ganglia and can spread to frontostriatal areas that are important to language functioning. These anatomical distinctions in disease may yield subtle differences in the action verb impairment between patient groups. Here we compare verbs where the body is the agent of the action to verbs where the body is the theme. To examine the role of motor functioning in body verb production, we split patient groups into patients with high motor impairment (HMI) and those with low motor impairment (LMI), using disease-specific measures of motor impairment. Regression analyses assessed how verb production in ALS and PD was related to motor system atrophy. We find a dissociation between agent- and theme-body verbs in ALS: ALS HMI were impaired for agent body verbs but not theme verbs, compared to ALS LMI. This dissociation was not present in PD patients, who instead show depressed production for all body verbs. Although patients with cognitive impairment were excluded from this study, cognitive performance significantly correlated with the production of theme verbs in ALS and cognitive/stative verbs in PD. Finally, regression analyses related the agent-theme dissociation in ALS to grey matter atrophy of premotor cortex. These findings support the view that motor dysfunction and disease in premotor cortex contributes to the agent body verb deficit in ALS, and begin to identify some distinct characteristics of impairment for verbs in ALS and PD.”

Written by: Katheryn A.Q. Cousins, Sharon Ash, Murray Grossman
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.08.030

A systematic linguistic profile of spontaneous narrative speech in pre-symptomatic and early stage Huntington’s disease

A systematic linguistic profile of spontaneous narrative speech in pre-symptomatic and early stage Huntington’s disease

Published in: Cortex, Volume 100, March 2018, 71-83

Abstract
“Cognitive decline accompanying the clinically more salient motor symptoms of Huntington’s disease (HD) has been widely noted and can precede motor symptoms onset. Less clear is how such decline bears on language functions in everyday life, though a small number of experimental studies have revealed difficulties with the application of rule-based aspects of language in early stages of the disease. Here we aimed to determine whether there is a systematic linguistic profile that characterizes spontaneous narrative speech in both pre-manifest and/or early manifest HD, and how it is related to striatal degeneration and neuropsychological profiles. Twenty-eight early-stage patients (19 manifest and 9 gene-carriers in the pre-manifest stage), matched with 28 controls, participated in a story-telling task. Speech was blindly scored by independent raters according to fine-grained linguistic variables distributed over 5 domains for which composite scores were computed (Quantitative, Fluency, Reference, Connectivity, and Concordance). Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) was used to link specific brain degeneration patterns to loci of linguistic decline. In all of these domains, significant differences were observed between groups. Deficits in Reference and Connectivity were seen in the pre-manifest stage, where no other neuropsychological impairment was detected. Among HD patients, there was a significant positive correlation only between the values in the Quantitative domain and gray matter volume bilaterally in the putamen and pallidum. These results fill the gap of qualitative data of spontaneous narrative speech in HD and reveal that HD is characterized by systematic linguistic impairments leading to dysfluencies and disorganization in core domains of grammatical organization. This includes the referential use of noun phrases and the embedding of clauses, which mediate crucial dimensions of meaning in language in its normal social use. Moreover, such impairment is seen prior to motor symptoms onset and when standardized neuropsychological test profiles are otherwise normal.”

Written by: Wolfram Hinzen, Joana Rossello, Cati Morey, Estela Camara, Clara Garcia-Gorro, Raymond Salvador, Ruth de Diego-Balaguer
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.07.022

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