Ambiguous idiom processing in Parkinson's disease patients

Costanza Papagno, Giulia Mattavelli, Zaira Cattaneo, Luigi Romito, Alberto Albanese

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Patients affected by Parkinson's disease (PD) can provide crucial information about the involvement of the motor system and prefrontal cortex in processing idioms including action verbs, since dopamine modulates the activity of these structures, and, consequently, different levels of this neurotransmitter can induce different cognitive impairments. In order to investigate the ability to process ambiguous idioms containing an action verb in patients, we asked 15 PD patients, in both OFF- and ON-phases, and 15 healthy matched participants to judge the plausibility of literal and idiomatic sentences, each presented at a self-paced rate. Patients in OFF-phase were faster in reading idiomatic than literal sentences, supporting the view that the motor system is not involved in online idiom processing. However, patients during OFF-phase were impaired in judging the plausibility of idiomatic ambiguous sentences, possibly due to the reduction of dopamine in prefrontal regions. The involvement of the motor system was evident in the ON-phase for literal sentences, suggesting that motor activation is strictly dependent on the context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)495-506
Number of pages12
JournalCognitive Neuropsychology
Issue number7-8
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Action verbs
  • Idiomatic sentences
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Prefrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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