Recent evidence suggests that the perirhinal cortex is involved in perception of complex objects with ambiguous features. Anterior regions of the temporal lobes, including the perirhinal cortex as well as lateral cortex, are also thought to play a critical role in semantic memory. To understand how semantic factors might contribute to perceptual discrimination of complex objects, we studied visual object discrimination in patients with semantic dementia (SD)-a neurodegenerative condition characterized by progressive deterioration of semantic knowledge and atrophy to anterior temporal lobes (including perirhinal cortex). In 3 experiments, we assessed discrimination of meaningful (e.g., familiar real-world objects) and novel (e.g., blobs) objects with varying feature ambiguity levels. In a fourth experiment, we compared SD patients with amnesic patients with nonprogressive medial temporal lobe (MTL) lesions and less impaired semantic memory. Across studies, patients with perirhinal damage were impaired at discriminating objects with a high, but not low, degree of feature ambiguity, consistent with previous work indicating a perceptual role for this structure. Stimulus meaningfulness, however, differentially influenced performance in SD patients compared with MTL amnesics, suggesting that perceptual representations of complex objects (dependent upon perirhinal cortex) interact with higher-order abstract conceptual representations, even for tasks with no overt semantic component.
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