Conjoint and extended neural networks for the computation of speech codes: the neural basis of selective impairment in reading words and pseudowords

Cereb Cortex. 2001 Mar;11(3):267-77. doi: 10.1093/cercor/11.3.267.


The computation of speech codes (i.e. phonology) is an important aspect of word reading. Understanding the neural systems and mech- anisms underlying phonological processes provides a foundation for the investigation of language in the brain. We used high-resolution three-dimensional positron emission tomography (PET) to investigate neural systems essential for phonological processes. The burden of neural activities on the computation of speech codes was maximized by three rhyming tasks (rhyming words, pseudowords and words printed in mixed letter cases). Brain activation patterns associated with these tasks were compared with those of two baseline tasks involving visual feature detection. Results suggest strong left lateralized epicenters of neural activity in rhyming irrespective of gender. Word rhyming activated the same brain regions engaged in pseudoword rhyming, suggesting conjoint neural networks for phonological processing of words and pseudowords. However, pseudoword rhyming induced the largest change in cerebral blood flow and activated more voxels in the left posterior prefrontal regions and the left inferior occipital-temporal junction. In addition, pseudoword rhyming activated the left supramarginal gyrus, which was not apparent in word rhyming. These results suggest that rhyming pseudowords requires active participation of extended neural systems and networks not observed for rhyming words. The implications of the results on theories and models of visual word reading and on selective reading dysfunctions after brain lesions are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain Mapping* / methods
  • Cerebellum / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Occipital Lobe / physiology
  • Phonetics*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Reading*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed