Shared orthographic neuronal representations for spelling and reading

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A central question in the study of the neural basis of written language is whether reading and spelling utilize shared orthographic representations. While recent studies employing fMRI to test this question report that the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and ventral occipitotemporal cortex (vOTC) are active during both spelling and reading in the same subjects (Purcell et al., 2011a; Rapp and Lipka, 2011), the spatial resolution of fMRI limits the interpretation of these findings. Specifically, it is unknown if the neurons which encode orthography for reading are also involved in spelling of the same words. Here we address this question by employing an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging-adaptation (fMRI-A) paradigm designed to examine shared orthographic representations across spelling and reading. First, we identified areas that independently showed adaptation to reading, and adaptation to spelling. Then we identified spatial convergence for these two separate maps via a conjunction analysis. Consistent with previous studies (Purcell et al., 2011a; Rapp and Lipka, 2011), this analysis revealed the left dorsal IFG, vOTC and supplementary motor area. To further validate these observations, we then interrogated these regions using an across-task adaptation technique, and found adaptation across reading and spelling in the left dorsal IFG (BA 44/9). Our final analysis focused specifically on the Visual Word Form Area (VWFA) in the vOTC, whose variability in location among subjects requires the use of subject-specific identification mechanisms (Glezer and Riesenhuber, 2013). Using a functional localizer for reading, we defined the VWFA in each subject, and found adaptation effects for both within the spelling and reading conditions, respectively, as well as across spelling and reading. Because none of these effects were observed during a phonological/semantic control condition, we conclude that the left dorsal IFG and VWFA are involved in accessing the same orthography-specific representations for spelling and reading.

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