Our ability to effectively retrieve complex semantic knowledge meaningfully impacts our daily lives, yet the neural processes that underly successful access and transient failures in access remain only partially understood. In this fMRI study, we contrast activation during successful semantic access, unsuccessful semantic access because of transient access failures (i.e., "tip-of-the-tongue," "feeling-of-knowing"), and trials where the semantic knowledge was not possessed. Twenty-four human participants (14 female) were presented 240 trivia-based questions relating to person, place, object, or scholastic knowledge domains. Analyses of the recall event indicated a relatively greater role of a dorsomedial section of the prefrontal cortex in unsuccessful semantic access and relatively greater recruitment of the pars orbitalis of the inferior frontal gyrus in successful access. Successful access was also associated with increased activation in knowledge domain-selective areas. Generally, knowledge domain-selective areas showed increased responses for both preferred and nonpreferred stimulus classes. The exception was place-selective regions (parahippocampal gyrus, transverse occipital sulcus, retrosplenial complex), which were recruited during unsuccessful access attempts for all stimulus domains. Collectively, these results suggest that prefrontal semantic control systems and classical spatial knowledge-selective regions work together to locate relevant information and that access to complex knowledge results in a broad activation of semantic representation extending to regions selective for other knowledge domains.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The ability to access the deep factual knowledge we possess has a meaningful influence on our scholastic, professional, and social lives. In this fMRI study, we investigate the neural processes associated with successful access to this knowledge as well as transient failures in semantic access (tip-of-the-tongue/feeling-of-knowing). Participants attempted to answer trivia-style general knowledge questions drawn from four different knowledge domains. Results suggest that prefrontal semantic control systems and classical spatial knowledge-selective regions work to locate relevant information and that access to complex knowledge results in a broad activation of semantic representation extending to regions selective for other knowledge domains.