Handjaras, G., Ricciardi, E., Leo, A., Lenci, A., Cecchetti, L., Cosottini, M., ... & Pietrini, P. (2016). How concepts are encoded in the human brain: A modality independent, category-based cortical organization of semantic knowledge. NeuroImage, 135, 232-242.
How conceptual knowledge is represented in the human brain remains to be determined. To address the differential role of low-level sensory-based and high-level abstract features in semantic processing, we combined behavioral studies of linguistic production and brain activity measures by functional magnetic resonance imaging in sighted and congenitally blind individuals while they performed a property-generation task with concrete nouns from eight categories, presented through visual and/or auditory modalities. Patterns of neural activity within a large semantic cortical network that comprised parahippocampal, lateral occipital, temporo-parieto-occipital and inferior parietal cortices correlated with linguistic production and were independent both from the modality of stimulus presentation (either visual or auditory) and the (lack of) visual experience. In contrast, selected modality-dependent differences were observed only when the analysis was limited to the individual regions within the semantic cortical network. We conclude that conceptual knowledge in the human brain relies on a distributed, modality-independent cortical representation that integrates the partial category and modality specific information retained at a regional level.