Reading without the left ventral occipito-temporal cortex.
Seghier ML., Neufeld NH., Zeidman P., Leff AP., Mechelli A., Nagendran A., Riddoch JM., Humphreys GW., Price CJ.
The left ventral occipito-temporal cortex (LvOT) is thought to be essential for the rapid parallel letter processing that is required for skilled reading. Here we investigate whether rapid written word identification in skilled readers can be supported by neural pathways that do not involve LvOT. Hypotheses were derived from a stroke patient who acquired dyslexia following extensive LvOT damage. The patient followed a reading trajectory typical of that associated with pure alexia, re-gaining the ability to read aloud many words with declining performance as the length of words increased. Using functional MRI and dynamic causal modelling (DCM), we found that, when short (three to five letter) familiar words were read successfully, visual inputs to the patient's occipital cortex were connected to left motor and premotor regions via activity in a central part of the left superior temporal sulcus (STS). The patient analysis therefore implied a left hemisphere "reading-without-LvOT" pathway that involved STS. We then investigated whether the same reading-without-LvOT pathway could be identified in 29 skilled readers and whether there was inter-subject variability in the degree to which skilled reading engaged LvOT. We found that functional connectivity in the reading-without-LvOT pathway was strongest in individuals who had the weakest functional connectivity in the LvOT pathway. This observation validates the findings of our patient's case study. Our findings highlight the contribution of a left hemisphere reading pathway that is activated during the rapid identification of short familiar written words, particularly when LvOT is not involved. Preservation and use of this pathway may explain how patients are still able to read short words accurately when LvOT has been damaged.