Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Map of cortical activation while reading aloud


Reading words aloud is a fundamental aspect of literacy. The rapid rate at which multiple distributed neural substrates are engaged in this process can only be probed via techniques with high spatiotemporal resolution. We probed this with direct intracranial recordings covering most of the left hemisphere in 46 humans (26 male, 20 female) as they read aloud regular, exception and pseudo-words. We used this to create a spatiotemporal map of word processing and to derive how broadband γ activity varies with multiple word attributes critical to reading speed: lexicality, word frequency, and orthographic neighborhood. We found that lexicality is encoded earliest in mid-fusiform (mFus) cortex, and precentral sulcus, and is represented reliably enough to allow single-trial lexicality decoding. Word frequency is first represented in mFus and later in the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and inferior parietal sulcus (IPS), while orthographic neighborhood sensitivity resides solely in IPS. We thus isolate the neural correlates of the distributed reading network involving mFus, IFG, IPS, precentral sulcus, and motor cortex and provide direct evidence for parallel processes via the lexical route from mFus to IFG, and the sublexical route from IPS and precentral sulcus to anterior IFG.

Significance Statement:

Reading aloud depends on multiple complex cerebral computations: mapping from a written letter string on a page to a sequence of spoken sound representations. Here, we used direct intracranial recordings in a large cohort while they read aloud known and novel words, to track, across space and time, the progression of neural representations of behaviorally relevant factors that govern reading speed. We find, concordant with cognitive models of reading, that known and novel words are differentially processed through a lexical route, sensitive to frequency of occurrence of known words in natural language, and a sublexical route, performing letter-by-letter construction of novel words.

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