Sharon L Thompson-Schill

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Professor of Psychology
Department: Psychology
Graduate Group Affiliations

Contact information
Rm 208, 3815 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Office: 215-573-3533
Fax: 215-898-1982
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Description of Research Expertise

Neural bases of memory and language in humans

Neuropsychology; neuroimaging; memory; language

Cognitive experimental paradigms with focally brain-damaged and normal humans; functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)

Human memory has been divided into two major classes of information: episodic memory, which is memory for specific events or episodes of one's life (e.g., what one ate for breakfast this morning); and semantic memory, or factual memory, which is described as memory for knowledge about objects, facts, concepts, and words and their meanings (e.g., what are suitable breakfast foods). Research in my lab focuses on the latter, in our investigations of the neural basis of semantic memory. Relatively little is known about the cortical systems that subserve the storage and retrieval of semantic knowledge, despite numerous cases of dramatic semantic memory dysfunction, such as that observed as one of the earliest and most prominent feature of Alzheimer's disease and other dementing diseases. Recent advances in neuroimaging which provide a noninvasive method for studying normal cognition in healthy volunteers have allowed great strides in understanding the neural bases of cognition. Perhaps nowhere has this method been as influential as in the study of semantic memory. In my laboratory, we take advantage of the latest techniques in functional neuroimaging (fMRI) to answer questions about how and where semantic memory is stored and organized in the brain and how that knowledge can be selectively and flexibly retrieved when needed. Much of our recent research has focused on the role of one region of cortex, the frontal lobes, in the task of retrieving semantic information. In conjunction with our neuroimaging studies, we also examine these questions in brain-damaged humans, in order to provide convergent evidence which is additionally capable of revealing the necessity of brain regions for various cognitive functions. The combination of fMRI studies of normal humans and behavioral studies of patients with relatively focal brain lesions has proven to be an extremely useful approach in our investigations of semantic memory. We have also used both of these methods, in addition to experimental studies of normal humans, to address related topics, such as the role of the frontal lobes in episodic and short-term memory retrieval.

Selected Publications

Shivde, G. S. & Thompson-Schill, S. L. : Dissociating semantic and phonological maintenance using fMRI. Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience 2004.

Tippett, L. J., Gendall, A., Farah, M. J., & Thompson-Schill, S. L. : Selection Ability in Alzheimer's Disease: Investigation of a Component of Semantic Processing. Neuropsychology 18(1): 163-73, 2004.

Kan, I. P. & Thompson-Schill, S. L.: Effect of name agreement on prefrontal activity during overt and covert picture naming. Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience 4(1): 43-57, 2003.

Oliver, R. T. & Thompson-Schill, S. L. : Dorsal stream activation during the retrieval of object size and shape. Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience 3(4): 309-22, 2003.

Kan, I. P., Barsalou, L. W., Solomon, K. O., Minor, J. K. & Thompson-Schill, S. L.: Role of mental imagery in a property verification task: fMRI evidence for perceptual semantic representations. Cognitive Neuropsychology 20: 525-40, 2003.

Thompson-Schill, S. L., Aguirre, G. K., D'Esposito, M., & Farah, M. J.: A neural basis for category and modality specificity of semantic knowledge. Neuropsychologia 37: 671-76, 1999.

Thompson-Schill, S. L., Swick, D., Farah, M. J., D'Esposito, M., Kan, I. P., & Knight, R. T. : Verb generation in patients with focal frontal lesions: A neuropsychological test of neuroimaging findings. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 95: 15855-60, 1998.

Thompson-Schill, S. L., D'Esposito, M., Aguirre, G. K., & Farah, M. J.: Role of left prefrontal cortex in retrieval of semantic knowledge: A re-evaluation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 94: 14792-97, 1997.

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Last updated: 09/08/2004
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