Neuroanatomical dissociation for taxonomic and thematic knowledge in the human brain

Myrna F. Schwartz, Daniel Y. Kimberg, Grant M. Walker, Adelyn Brecher, Olufunsho K. Faseyitan, Gary S. Dell, Daniel Mirman, H. Branch Coslett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is thought that semantic memory represents taxonomic information differently from thematic information. This study investigated the neural basis for the taxonomic-thematic distinction in a unique way. We gathered picture-naming errors from 86 individuals with poststroke language impairment (aphasia). Error rates were determined separately for taxonomic errors ("pear" in response to apple) and thematic errors ("worm" in response to apple), and their shared variance was regressed out of each measure. With the segmented lesions normalized to a common template, we carried out voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping on each error type separately. We found that taxonomic errors localized to the left anterior temporal lobe and thematic errors localized to the left temporoparietal junction. This is an indication that the contribution of these regions to semantic memory cleaves along taxonomic-thematic lines. Our findings show that a distinction long recognized in the psychological sciences is grounded in the structure and function of the human brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8520-8524
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number20
StatePublished - May 17 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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