Auditory language comprehension recruits cortical regions that are both close to sensory-motor landmarks (supporting auditory and motor features) and far from these landmarks (supporting word meaning). We investigated whether the responsiveness of these regions in task-based functional MRI is related to individual differences in their physical distance to primary sensorimotor landmarks. Parcels in the auditory network, that were equally responsive across story and math tasks, showed stronger activation in individuals who had less distance between these parcels and transverse temporal sulcus, in line with the predictions of the ‘tethering hypothesis’ which suggests that greater proximity to input regions might increase the fidelity of sensory processing. Conversely, language and default mode parcels, which were more active for the story task, showed positive correlations between individual differences in activation and sensory-motor distance from primary sensory-motor landmarks, consistent with the view that physical separation from sensory-motor inputs supports aspects of cognition that draw on semantic memory. These results demonstrate that distance from sensorimotor regions provides an organising principle of functional differentiation within the cortex. The relationship between activation and geodesic distance to sensory-motor landmarks is in opposite directions for cortical regions that are proximal to the heteromodal (DMN and language network) and unimodal ends of the principal gradient of intrinsic connectivity.
© The Author(s) 2022