Experimental induction of reading difficulties in normal readers provides novel insights into the neurofunctional mechanisms of visual word recognition
Phonological and visual dysfunctions may result in reading deficits like those encountered in developmental dyslexia. Here, we use a novel approach to induce similar reading difficulties in normal readers in an event-related fMRI study, thus systematically investigating which brain regions relate to different pathways relating to orthographic-phonological (e.g. grapheme-to-phoneme conversion, GPC) vs. visual processing. Based upon a previous behavioural study (Tholen et al. 2011), the retrieval of phonemes from graphemes was manipulated by lowering the identifiability of letters in familiar vs. unfamiliar shapes. Visual word and letter processing was impeded by presenting the letters of a word in a moving, non-stationary manner. FMRI revealed that the visual condition activated cytoarchitectonically defined area hOC5 in the magnocellular pathway and area 7A in the right mesial parietal cortex. In contrast, the grapheme manipulation revealed different effects localised predominantly in bilateral inferior frontal gyrus (left cytoarchitectonic area 44; right area 45) and inferior parietal lobule (including areas PF/PFm), regions that have been demonstrated to show abnormal activation in dyslexic as compared to normal readers. This pattern of activation bears close resemblance to recent findings in dyslexic samples both behaviourally and with respect to the neurofunctional activation patterns. The novel paradigm may thus prove useful in future studies to understand reading problems related to distinct pathways, potentially providing a link also to the understanding of real reading impairments in dyslexia.