Distinct frontal regions for processing sentence syntax and story grammar

A. Sirigu*, L. Cohen, T. Zalla, P. Pradat-Diehl, P. Van Eeckhout, J. Grafman, Y. Agid

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Time is a fundamental dimension of cognition. It is expressed in the sequential ordering of individual elements in a wide variety of activities such as language, motor control or in the broader domain of long range goal-directed actions. Several studies have shown the importance of the frontal lobes in sequencing information. The question addressed in this study is whether this brain region hosts a single supramodal sequence processor, or whether separate mechanisms are required for different kinds of temporally organised knowledge structures such as syntax and action knowledge. Here we show that so-called agrammatic patients, with lesions in Broca's area, ordered word groups correctly to form a logical sequence of actions but they were severely impaired when similar word groups had to be ordered as a syntactically well-formed sentence. The opposite performance was observed in patients with dorsolateral prefrontal lesions, that is, while their syntactic processing was intact at the sentence level, they demonstrated a pronounced deficit in producing temporally coherent sequences of actions. Anatomical reconstruction of lesions from brain scans revealed that the sentence and action grammar deficits involved distinct, non-overlapping sites within the frontal lobes. Finally, in a third group of patients whose lesions encompassed both Broca's area and the prefrontal cortex, the two types of deficits were found. We conclude that sequence processing is specific to knowledge domains and involves different networks within the frontal lobes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)771-778
Number of pages8
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1998


  • Frontal lesion
  • Neuropsychology
  • Sequence processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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