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MVPA Analysis of Intertrial Phase Coherence of Neuromagnetic Responses to Words Reliably Classifies Multiple Levels of Language Processing in the Brain

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Neural processing of language is still among the most poorly understood functions of the human brain, whereas a need to objectively assess the neurocognitive status of the language function in a participant-friendly and noninvasive fashion arises in various situations. Here, we propose a solution for this based on a short task-free recording of MEG responses to a set of spoken linguistic contrasts. We used spoken stimuli that diverged lexically (words/pseudowords), semantically (action-related/abstract), or morphosyntactically (grammatically correct/ungrammatical). Based on beamformer source reconstruction we investigated intertrial phase coherence (ITPC) in five canonical bands (α, β, and low, medium, and high γ) using multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA). Using this approach, we could successfully classify brain responses to meaningful words from meaningless pseudowords, correct from incorrect syntax, as well as semantic differences. The best classification results indicated distributed patterns of activity dominated by core temporofrontal language circuits and complemented by other areas. They varied between the different neurolinguistic properties across frequency bands, with lexical processes classified predominantly by broad γ, semantic distinctions by α and β, and syntax by low γ feature patterns. Crucially, all types of processing commenced in a near-parallel fashion from ∼100 ms after the auditory information allowed for disambiguating the spoken input. This shows that individual neurolinguistic processes take place simultaneously and involve overlapping yet distinct neuronal networks that operate at different frequency bands. This brings further hope that brain imaging can be used to assess neurolinguistic processes objectively and noninvasively in a range of populations.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberENEURO.0444-18.2019
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2019

    Research areas

  • Language, Lexical access, Magnetoencephalography (MEG), Morphosyntax, Multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA), Oscillations, Semantics

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