Modulation in alpha band activity reflects syntax composition: an MEG study of minimal syntactic binding

Sophie M. Hardy, Ole Jensen, Linda Wheeldon, Ali Mazaheri, Katrien Segaert

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Successful sentence comprehension requires the binding, or composition, of multiple words into larger structures to establish meaning. Using magnetoencephalography, we investigated the neural mechanisms involved in binding at the syntax level, in a task where contributions from semantics were minimized. Participants were auditorily presented with minimal sentences that required binding (pronoun and pseudo-verb with the corresponding morphological inflection; “she grushes”) and pseudo-verb wordlists that did not require binding (“cugged grushes”).Relative to no binding,we found that syntactic binding was associated with a modulation in alpha band (8–12 Hz) activity in left-lateralized language regions. First, we observed a significantly smaller increase in alpha power around thepresentation of the target word (“grushes”) that required binding (−0.05 to 0.1 s),which we suggest reflects an expectation of binding to occur. Second, during binding of the target word (0.15–0.25 s), we observed significantly decreased alpha phase-locking between the left inferior frontal gyrus and the left middle/inferior temporal cortex, which we suggest reflects alpha-driven cortical disinhibition serving to strengthen communication within the syntax composition neural network.Altogether,our findings highlight the critical role of rapid spatial–temporal alpha band activity in controlling the allocation, transfer, and coordination of the brain’s resources during syntax composition.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberbhac080
Number of pages15
JournalCerebral Cortex
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2022


  • alpha oscillations
  • connectivity
  • language
  • sentence comprehension
  • syntax


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