Purpose of review: To discuss whether recent functional neuroimaging results can account for clinical phenomenology in visual associative agnosias.
Recent findings: Functional neuroimaging studies in healthy human subjects have identified only two regions of ventral occipitotemporal cortex that invariantly respond to individual faces and visual words, respectively. The signature of face identity coding in the fusiform neural response was shown to be missing in a patient with prosopagnosia. Another case study established that a surgical lesion close to the region sensitive to visual words can result in pure alexia.
Summary: Evidence is increasing that functional specialization for processing face identity and visual word forms is restricted to two specialized sensory modules in the occipitotemporal cortex. A structural or functional lesion to face-sensitive and word-sensitive regions in the ventral occipitotemporal cortex can provide the most parsimonious account for the clinical syndromes of prosopagnosia and agnosic alexia. This review suggests that functional specialization should be considered in terms of whether exclusively one brain region (instead of many) underpins a defined function and not as whether this brain region underpins exclusively one cognitive function. Such functional specialization seems to exist for at least two higher-order visual perceptual functions, face and word identification.