The left prefrontal cortex is essential for verbal communication. It remains uncertain at what timing, to what extent, and what type of phrase initiates left-hemispheric dominant prefrontal activation during comprehension of spoken sentences. We clarified this issue by measuring event-related high-gamma activity during a task to respond to three-phrase questions configured in different orders. Questions beginning with a wh-interrogative deactivated the left posterior prefrontal cortex right after the 1st phrase offset and the anterior prefrontal cortex after the 2nd phrase offset. Left prefrontal high-gamma activity augmented subsequently and maximized around the 3rd phrase offset. Conversely, questions starting with a concrete phrase deactivated the right orbitofrontal region and then activated the left posterior prefrontal cortex after the 1st phrase offset. Regardless of sentence types, high-gamma activity emerged earlier, by one phrase, in the left posterior prefrontal than anterior prefrontal region. Sentences beginning with a wh-interrogative may initially deactivate the left prefrontal cortex to prioritize the bottom-up processing of upcoming auditory information. A concrete phrase may obliterate the inhibitory function of the right orbitofrontal region and facilitate top-down lexical prediction by the left prefrontal cortex. The left anterior prefrontal regions may be recruited for semantic integration of multiple concrete phrases.
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