Mapping Verb Retrieval With nTMS: The Role of Transitivity

Ntemou, E., Ohlerth, A.-K., Ille, S., Krieg, S., Bastiaanse, R., & Rofes, A. (2021). Mapping Verb Retrieval With nTMS: The Role of Transitivity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 15: 719461. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2021.719461.
Navigated Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (nTMS) is used to understand the cortical organization of language in preparation for the surgical removal of a brain tumor. Action naming with finite verbs can be employed for that purpose, providing additional information to object naming. However, little research has focused on the properties of the verbs that are used in action naming tasks, such as their status as transitive (taking an object; e.g., to read) or intransitive (not taking an object; e.g., to wink). Previous neuroimaging data show higher activation for transitive compared to intransitive verbs in posterior perisylvian regions bilaterally. In the present study, we employed nTMS and production of finite verbs to investigate the cortical underpinnings of transitivity. Twenty neurologically healthy native speakers of German participated in the study. They underwent language mapping in both hemispheres with nTMS. The action naming task with finite verbs consisted of transitive (e.g., The man reads the book) and intransitive verbs (e.g., The woman winks) and was controlled for relevant psycholinguistic variables. Errors were classified in four different error categories (i.e., non-linguistic errors, grammatical errors, lexico-semantic errors and, errors at the sound level) and were analyzed quantitatively. We found more nTMS-positive points in the left hemisphere, particularly in the left parietal lobe for the production of transitive compared to intransitive verbs. These positive points most commonly corresponded to lexico-semantic errors. Our findings are in line with previous aphasia and neuroimaging studies, suggesting that a more widespread network is used for the production of verbs with a larger number of arguments (i.e., transitives). The higher number of lexico-semantic errors with transitive compared to intransitive verbs in the left parietal lobe supports previous claims for the role of left posterior areas in the retrieval of argument structure information.
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