190726 Dr Zubaida Shebani
Dr Zubaida Shebani Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: A two-year research project by a professor at UAE University (UAEU) has revealed how different parts of the brain are responsible for processing words and memory.

Heading the study, Dr Zubaida Shebani, assistant professor of cognitive neuroscience, wanted to learn which parts of the brain are involved in the memory process of action words.

“It has already been established that when we perceive — hear or read — words referring to actions such as jump, grasp and chew, this activates motor regions of the brain in the frontal lobe,” said Dr Shebani. “A large number of studies have also shown that the pre-frontal cortex, the front-most part of the brain, plays a prominent role in memory processes,” she added.

“I wanted to see whether the brain areas that had previously shown to become active during action word processing would be the same areas that house memory neural networks for the same action words,” she explained, highlighting the focus of her research.

“It is important to know which brain regions are involved in working memory processes for words because it could have important theoretical and clinical implications,” she said, discussing the relevant medical benefits behind the study.

Dr Shebani said that tests were carried out with participants for the study, which saw them lying in a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fmri). While inside the machine, participants were shown action words on a computer screen and told to remember those words in heir memory. The results of the tests revealed that the brain areas active for word memory were in the anterior regions of the brain’s frontal cortex.

“Because it is an fmri experiment – a technique which is used for scanning which parts of the brain become active during different cognitive processes, there is a great deal of preparation that goes into place,” Dr Shebani explained.

“This includes making sure the paradigm is right, carefully matching stimulus items and selecting suitable participants for the study as they have to be free of neurological diseases and very right-handed, so that there is consistency in the way their brain is organised,” she added, explaining the meticulous details that went into the experiments.

Dr Shebani said she was hopeful that the findings of her study would lead to more effective treatments for patients with memory or language impairments, particularly for stroke victims.

“The present study advances our understanding of action word memory processes in the brain which, in turn, could lead to more effective therapeutic techniques for patients with language/memory impairments.

“The study has been submitted for publication in a leading neuroscience journal and should be in press later this year. The study has also been published in bioRxiv, a pre-print repository for neuroscience research,” she added, highlighting how she aims to make the research available internationally.