ABSTRACT: A century of neurology and neuroscience shows that seeing words depends on ventral occipital-temporal (VOT) circuitry. Typically, reading is learned using high-contrast line-contour words. We explored whether a specific VOT region, the visual word form area (VWFA), learns to see only these words or recognizes words independent of the specific shape-defining visual features. Word forms were created using atypical features (motion-dots, luminance-dots) whose statistical properties control word-visibility. We measured fMRI responses as word form visibility varied, and we used TMS to interfere with neural processing in specific cortical circuits, while subjects performed a lexical decision task. For all features, VWFA responses increased with word-visibility and correlated with performance. TMS applied to motion-specialized area hMT+ disrupted reading performance for motion-dots, but not line-contours or luminance-dots. A quantitative model describes feature-convergence in the VWFA and relates VWFA responses to behavioral performance. These findings suggest how visual feature-tolerance in the reading network arises through signal convergence from feature-specialized cortical areas.
Project description:The visual word form area (VWFA) in the left ventral occipito-temporal (vOT) cortex is key to fluent reading in children and adults. Diminished VWFA activation during print processing tasks is a common finding in subjects with severe reading problems. Here, we report fMRI data from a multicentre study with 140 children in primary school (7.9-12.2 years; 55 children with dyslexia, 73 typical readers, 12 intermediate readers). All performed a semantic task on visually presented words and a matched control task on symbol strings. With this large group of children, including the entire spectrum from severely impaired to highly fluent readers, we aimed to clarify the association of reading fluency and left vOT activation during visual word processing. The results of this study confirm reduced word-sensitive activation within the left vOT in children with dyslexia. Interestingly, the association of reading skills and left vOT activation was especially strong and spatially extended in children with dyslexia. Thus, deficits in basic visual word form processing increase with the severity of reading disability but seem only weakly associated with fluency within the typical reading range suggesting a linear dependence of reading scores with VFWA activation only in the poorest readers.
Project description:Word-selective neural responses in human ventral occipito-temporal cortex (VOTC) emerge as children learn to read, creating a visual word form area (VWFA) in the literate brain. It has been suggested that the VWFA arises through competition between pre-existing selectivity for other stimulus categories, changing the topography of VOTC to support rapid word recognition. Here, we hypothesized that competition between words and objects would be resolved as children acquire reading skill. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we examined the relationship between responses to words and objects in VOTC in two ways. First, we defined the VWFA using a words?>?objects contrast and found that only skilled readers had a region that responded more to words than objects. Second, we defined the VWFA using a words?>?faces contrast and examined selectivity for words over objects in this region. We found that word selectivity strongly correlated with reading skill, suggesting reading skill-dependent tuning for words. Furthermore, we found that low word selectivity in struggling readers was not due to a lack of response to words, but to a high response to objects. Our results suggest that the fine-tuning of word-selective responses in VOTC is a critical component of skilled reading.
Project description:Circuitry in ventral occipital-temporal cortex is essential for seeing words. We analyze the circuitry within a specific ventral-occipital region, the visual word form area (VWFA). The VWFA is immediately adjacent to the retinotopically organized VO-1 and VO-2 visual field maps and lies medial and inferior to visual field maps within motion selective human cortex. Three distinct white matter fascicles pass within close proximity to the VWFA: (1) the inferior longitudinal fasciculus, (2) the inferior frontal occipital fasciculus, and (3) the vertical occipital fasciculus. The vertical occipital fasciculus terminates in or adjacent to the functionally defined VWFA voxels in every individual. The vertical occipital fasciculus projects dorsally to language and reading related cortex. The combination of functional responses from cortex and anatomical measures in the white matter provides an overview of how the written word is encoded and communicated along the ventral occipital-temporal circuitry for seeing words.
Project description:Seeing words involves the activity of neural circuitry within a small region in human ventral temporal cortex known as the visual word form area (VWFA). It is widely asserted that VWFA responses, which are essential for skilled reading, do not depend on the visual field position of the writing (position invariant). Such position invariance supports the hypothesis that the VWFA analyzes word forms at an abstract level, far removed from specific stimulus features. Using functional MRI pattern-classification techniques, we show that position information is encoded in the spatial pattern of VWFA responses. A right-hemisphere homolog (rVWFA) shows similarly position-sensitive responses. Furthermore, electrophysiological recordings in the human brain show position-sensitive VWFA response latencies. These findings show that position-sensitive information is present in the neural circuitry that conveys visual word form information to language areas. The presence of position sensitivity in the VWFA has implications for how word forms might be learned and stored within the reading circuitry.
Project description:The visual word form area (VWFA) is a region in the left occipitotemporal sulcus of literate individuals that is purportedly specialized for visual word recognition. However, there is considerable controversy about its functional specificity and connectivity, with some arguing that it serves as a domain-general, rather than word-specific, visual processor. The VWFA is a critical region for testing hypotheses about the nature of cortical organization, because it is known to develop only through experience (i.e., reading acquisition), and widespread literacy is too recent to have influenced genetic determinants of brain organization. Using a combination of advanced fMRI analysis techniques, including individual functional localization, multivoxel pattern analysis, and high-resolution resting-state functional connectivity (RSFC) analyses, with data from 33 healthy adult human participants, we demonstrate that (1) the VWFA can discriminate words from nonword letter strings (pseudowords); (2) the VWFA has preferential RSFC with Wernicke's area and other core regions of the language system; and (3) the strength of the RSFC between the VWFA and Wernicke's area predicts performance on a semantic classification task with words but not other categories of visual stimuli. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that the VWFA is specialized for lexical processing of real words because of its functional connectivity with Wernicke's area.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The visual word form area (VWFA) is critical for determining the nature of category-related organization of the ventral visual system. However, its functional specificity and connectivity are fiercely debated. Recent work concluded that the VWFA is a domain-general, rather than word-specific, visual processor with no preferential functional connectivity with the language system. Using more advanced techniques, our results stand in stark contrast to these earlier findings. We demonstrate that the VWFA is highly specialized for lexical processing of real words, and that a fundamental factor driving this specialization is its preferential intrinsic functional connectivity with core regions of the language system. Our results support the hypothesis that intrinsic functional connectivity contributes to category-related specialization within the human ventral visual system.
Project description:The present fMRI study used a spelling task to investigate the hypothesis that the left ventral occipitotemporal cortex (vOT) hosts neuronal representations of whole written words. Such an orthographic word lexicon is posited by cognitive dual-route theories of reading and spelling. In the scanner, participants performed a spelling task in which they had to indicate if a visually presented letter is present in the written form of an auditorily presented word. The main experimental manipulation distinguished between an orthographic word spelling condition in which correct spelling decisions had to be based on orthographic whole-word representations, a word spelling condition in which reliance on orthographic whole-word representations was optional and a phonological pseudoword spelling condition in which no reliance on such representations was possible. To evaluate spelling-specific activations the spelling conditions were contrasted with control conditions that also presented auditory words and pseudowords, but participants had to indicate if a visually presented letter corresponded to the gender of the speaker. We identified a left vOT cluster activated for the critical orthographic word spelling condition relative to both the control condition and the phonological pseudoword spelling condition. Our results suggest that activation of left vOT during spelling can be attributed to the retrieval of orthographic whole-word representations and, thus, support the position that the left vOT potentially represents the neuronal equivalent of the cognitive orthographic word lexicon.
Project description:The visual word form area (VWFA) is a region of left inferior occipitotemporal cortex that is critically involved in visual word recognition. Previous studies have investigated whether and how experience shapes the functional characteristics of VWFA by comparing neural response magnitude in response to words and nonwords. Conflicting results have been obtained, however, perhaps because response magnitude can be influenced by other factors such as attention. In this study, we measured neural activity in monozygotic twins, using functional magnetic resonance imaging. This allowed us to quantify differences in unique environmental contributions to neural activation evoked by words, pseudowords, consonant strings, and false fonts in the VWFA and striate cortex. The results demonstrate significantly greater effects of unique environment in the word and pseudoword conditions compared to the consonant string and false font conditions both in VWFA and in left striate cortex. These findings provide direct evidence for environmental contributions to the neural architecture for reading, and suggest that learning phonology and/or orthographic patterns plays the biggest role in shaping that architecture.
Project description:Theories of reading have posited the existence of a neural representation coding for whole real words (i.e., an orthographic lexicon), but experimental support for such a representation has proved elusive. Using fMRI rapid adaptation techniques, we provide evidence that the human left ventral occipitotemporal cortex (specifically the "visual word form area," VWFA) contains a representation based on neurons highly selective for individual real words, in contrast to current theories that posit a sublexical representation in the VWFA.
Project description:Access to semantic information of visual word forms is a key component of reading comprehension. In this study, we examined the involvement of the visual word form area (VWFA) in this process by investigating whether and how the activity patterns of the VWFA are influenced by semantic information during semantic tasks. We asked participants to perform two semantic tasks - taxonomic or thematic categorization - on visual words while obtaining the blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) fMRI responses to each word. Representational similarity analysis with four types of semantic relations (taxonomic, thematic, subjective semantic rating and word2vec) revealed that neural activity patterns of the VWFA were associated with taxonomic information only in the taxonomic task, with thematic information only in the thematic task and with the composite semantic information measured by word2vec in both semantic tasks. Furthermore, the semantic information in the VWFA cannot be explained by confounding factors including orthographic, low-level visual and phonological information. These findings provide positive evidence for the presence of both orthographic and task-relevant semantic information in the VWFA and have significant implications for the neurobiological basis of reading.
Project description:We read jubmled wrods effortlessly, but the neural correlates of this remarkable ability remain poorly understood. We hypothesized that viewing a jumbled word activates a visual representation that is compared to known words. To test this hypothesis, we devised a purely visual model in which neurons tuned to letter shape respond to longer strings in a compositional manner by linearly summing letter responses. We found that dissimilarities between letter strings in this model can explain human performance on visual search, and responses to jumbled words in word reading tasks. Brain imaging revealed that viewing a string activates this letter-based code in the lateral occipital (LO) region and that subsequent comparisons to stored words are consistent with activations of the visual word form area (VWFA). Thus, a compositional neural code potentially contributes to efficient reading.