Modularity and granularity across the language network-A primary progressive aphasia perspective

M. Marsel Mesulam*, Christina A. Coventry, Benjamin M. Rader, Alan Kuang, Jaiashre Sridhar, Adam Martersteck, Hui Zhang, Cynthia K. Thompson, Sandra Weintraub, Emily J. Rogalski

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Tests of grammar, repetition and semantics were administered to 62 prospectively enrolled right-handed participants with primary progressive aphasia (PPA). Structural brain images were obtained at the time of testing. Regression analyses uncovered 3 clearly delineated non-overlapping left hemisphere clusters where cortical thinning (atrophy) was significantly correlated with impaired performance. A morphosyntactic cluster associated with the grammaticality of sentence construction was located predominantly within the middle and inferior frontal gyri; a phonolexical cluster associated with language repetition was located in the temporoparietal junction; a lexicosemantic cluster associated with object naming and single word comprehension was located within the middle and anterior parts of the temporal lobe and extended into insular, orbitofrontal, and mediotemporal cortices. Commonality analyses were undertaken to explore whether these three clusters were as modular as indicated by the regression analyses or whether some underlying functional granularity could be uncovered. Modularity was defined as the exclusive association of an anatomical cluster with a single type of language task whereas granularity was defined as the association of a single anatomical cluster with more than one type of language task. The commonality analyses revealed a predominantly modular organization with quantitatively minor instances of inter-cluster granularity. The results also reconfirmed previous work on PPA which had shown that Wernicke's area is not essential for word comprehension, that naming impairments can be based either on deficits of lexical retrieval or word comprehension, and that the essential substrates of word comprehension encompass much wider areas of the temporal lobe than the temporal pole. The anatomy of the language network has traditionally been explored through patients with focal cerebrovascular accidents and experiments based on functional activation. Investigations on PPA are showing that focal neurodegenerations can add new perspectives to existing models of the language network.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)482-496
Number of pages15
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Dementia
  • Grammar
  • Repetition
  • Semantics
  • Word comprehension

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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