Current Controversies on Wernicke’s Area and its Role in Language

Abstract

Purpose of Review

The aim of the study is to assess historical anatomical and functional definitions of Wernicke’s area in light of modern lesion and neuroimaging data.

Recent Findings

“Wernicke’s area” has become an anatomical label usually applied to the left posterior superior temporal gyrus and adjacent supramarginal gyrus. Recent evidence shows that this region is not critical for speech perception or for word comprehension. Rather, it supports retrieval of phonological forms (mental representations of phoneme sequences), which are used for speech output and short-term memory tasks. Focal damage to this region produces phonemic paraphasia without impairing word comprehension, i.e., conduction aphasia. Neuroimaging studies in recent decades provide evidence for a widely distributed temporal, parietal, and frontal network supporting language comprehension, which does not include the anatomically defined Wernicke area.

Summary

The term Wernicke’s area, if used at all, should not be used to refer to a zone critical for speech comprehension.

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Correspondence to Jeffrey R. Binder.

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Binder, J.R. Current Controversies on Wernicke’s Area and its Role in Language. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep 17, 58 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11910-017-0764-8

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Keywords

  • Wernicke aphasia
  • Phonology
  • Semantic memory
  • Superior temporal gyrus
  • Middle temporal gyrus