Lexical retrieval and semantic knowledge in patients with left inferior temporal lobe lesions

Sharon Antonucci, Pélagie Beeson, David Labiner, Steven Rapcsak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Background: It has been proposed that anomia following left inferior temporal lobe lesions may have two different underlying mechanisms with distinct neural substrates. Specifically, naming impairment following damage to more posterior regions (BA 37) has been considered to result from a disconnection between preserved semantic knowledge and phonological word forms (pure anomia), whereas anomia following damage to anterior temporal regions (BAs 38, 20/21) has been attributed to the degradation of semantic representations (semantic anomia). However, the integrity of semantic knowledge in patients with pure anomia has not been demonstrated convincingly, nor were lesions in these cases necessarily confined to BA 37. Furthermore, evidence of semantic anomia often comes from individuals with bilateral temporal lobe damage, so it is unclear whether unilateral temporal lobe lesions are sufficient to produce significant semantic impairment. Aims: The main goals of this study were to determine whether anomia following unilateral left inferior temporal lobe damage reflected a loss of semantic knowledge or a post-semantic deficit in lexical retrieval and to identify the neuroanatomical correlates of the naming impairment. Methods & Procedures: Eight individuals who underwent left anterior temporal lobectomy (L ATL) and eight individuals who sustained left posterior cerebral artery strokes (L PCA) completed a battery of language measures that assessed lexical retrieval and semantic processing, and 16 age- and education-matched controls also completed this battery. High-resolution structural brain scans were collected to conduct lesion analyses. Outcomes & Results: Performance of L ATL and L PCA patients was strikingly similar, with both groups demonstrating naming performance ranging from moderately impaired to unimpaired. Anomia in both groups occurred in the context of mild deficits to semantic knowledge, which manifested primarily as greater difficulty in naming living things than nonliving things and greater difficulty in processing visual/perceptual as opposed to functional/associative semantic attributes. Lesion analyses indicated that both patient groups sustained damage to anterior inferior temporal lobe regions implicated in semantic processing. Conclusions: These results contribute to a better understanding of the cognitive mechanism of naming impairment in patients with temporal lobe damage and support the notion that pure anomia and semantic anomia represent two endpoints along a continuum of semantic impairment. Unilateral left temporal lobe lesions in our patients resulted in relatively mild semantic deficits that were apparent primarily in lexical production tasks, whereas severe semantic impairment likely requires bilateral temporal lobe damage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-304
Number of pages24
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Anomia
  • Aphasia
  • Stroke
  • Temporal lobectomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • LPN and LVN


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