Orthographic and phonological selectivity across the reading system in deaf skilled readers

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People who are born deaf often have difficulty learning to read. Recently, several studies have examined the neural substrates involved in reading in deaf people and found a left lateralized reading system similar to hearing people involving temporo-parietal, inferior frontal, and ventral occipito-temporal cortices. Previous studies in typical hearing readers show that within this reading network there are separate regions that specialize in processing orthography and phonology. We used fMRI rapid adaptation in deaf adults who were skilled readers to examine neural selectivity in three functional ROIs in the left hemisphere: temporoparietal cortex (TPC), inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), and the visual word form area (VWFA). Results show that in deaf skilled readers, the left VWFA showed selectivity for orthography similar to what has been reported for hearing readers, the TPC showed less sensitivity to phonology than previously reported for hearing readers using the same paradigm, and the IFG showed selectivity to orthography, but not phonology (similar to what has been reported previously for hearing readers). These results provide evidence that while skilled deaf readers demonstrate coarsely tuned phonological representations in the TPC, they develop finely tuned representations for the orthography of written words in the VWFA and IFG. This result suggests that phonological tuning in the TPC may have little impact on the neural network associated with skilled reading for deaf adults.

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