How the brain makes sense beyond the processing of single words – An MEG study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • Annika Hulten

  • Jan Mathijs Schoffelen
  • Julia Uddén
  • Nietzsche H.L. Lam
  • Peter Hagoort

Research units

  • Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
  • Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
  • Radboud University Nijmegen


Human language processing involves combinatorial operations that make human communication stand out in the animal kingdom. These operations rely on a dynamic interplay between the inferior frontal and the posterior temporal cortices. Using source reconstructed magnetoencephalography, we tracked language processing in the brain, in order to investigate how individual words are interpreted when part of sentence context. The large sample size in this study (n = 68) allowed us to assess how event-related activity is associated across distinct cortical areas, by means of inter-areal co-modulation within an individual. We showed that, within 500 ms of seeing a word, the word's lexical information has been retrieved and unified with the sentence context. This does not happen in a strictly feed-forward manner, but by means of co-modulation between the left posterior temporal cortex (LPTC) and left inferior frontal cortex (LIFC), for each individual word. The co-modulation of LIFC and LPTC occurs around 400 ms after the onset of each word, across the progression of a sentence. Moreover, these core language areas are supported early on by the attentional network. The results provide a detailed description of the temporal orchestration related to single word processing in the context of ongoing language.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)586-594
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

    Research areas

  • Fronto-temporal interaction, MEG, Sentence progression, Unification, Word processing

ID: 39089890