A cortical network for semantics: (de)constructing the N400

Ellen Lau, Colin Phillips, David Poeppel

Measuring event-related potentials (ERPs) has been fundamental to our understanding of how language is encoded in the brain. One particular ERP response, the N400 response, has been especially influential as an index of lexical and semantic processing. However, there remains a lack of consensus on the interpretation of this component. Resolving this issue has important consequences for neural models of language comprehension. Here we show that evidence bearing on where the N400 response is generated provides key insights into what it reflects. A neuroanatomical model of semantic processing is used as a guide to interpret the pattern of activated regions in functional MRI, magnetoencephalography and intracranial recordings that are associated with contextual semantic manipulations that lead to N400 effects.