Integration of letters and speech sounds in the human brain

Neuron. 2004 Jul 22;43(2):271-82. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2004.06.025.


Most people acquire literacy skills with remarkable ease, even though the human brain is not evolutionarily adapted to this relatively new cultural phenomenon. Associations between letters and speech sounds form the basis of reading in alphabetic scripts. We investigated the functional neuroanatomy of the integration of letters and speech sounds using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Letters and speech sounds were presented unimodally and bimodally in congruent or incongruent combinations. Analysis of single-subject data and group data aligned on the basis of individual cortical anatomy revealed that letters and speech sounds are integrated in heteromodal superior temporal cortex. Interestingly, responses to speech sounds in a modality-specific region of the early auditory cortex were modified by simultaneously presented letters. These results suggest that efficient processing of culturally defined associations between letters and speech sounds relies on neural mechanisms similar to those naturally evolved for integrating audiovisual speech.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Association*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping* / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Phonetics*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reading*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology