Brain sensitivity to print emerges when children learn letter-speech sound correspondences

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Apr 27;107(17):7939-44. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0904402107. Epub 2010 Apr 15.


The acquisition of reading skills is a major landmark process in a human's cognitive development. On the neural level, a new functional network develops during this time, as children typically learn to associate the well-known sounds of their spoken language with unfamiliar characters in alphabetic languages and finally access the meaning of written words, allowing for later reading. A critical component of the mature reading network located in the left occipito-temporal cortex, termed the "visual word-form system" (VWFS), exhibits print-sensitive activation in readers. When and how the sensitivity of the VWFS to print comes about remains an open question. In this study, we demonstrate the initiation of occipito-temporal cortex sensitivity to print using functional MRI (fMRI) (n = 16) and event-related potentials (ERP) (n = 32) in a controlled, longitudinal training study. Print sensitivity of fast (<250 ms) processes in posterior occipito-temporal brain regions accompanied basic associative learning of letter-speech sound correspondences in young (mean age 6.4 +/- 0.08 y) nonreading kindergarten children, as shown by concordant ERP and fMRI results. The occipito-temporal print sensitivity thus is established during the earliest phase of reading acquisition in childhood, suggesting that a crucial part of the later reading network first adopts a role in mapping print and sound.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Occipital Lobe / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Reading*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*