A visual attention (VA) span disorder has been reported in dyslexic children as potentially responsible for their poor reading outcome. The purpose of the current paper was to identify the cerebral correlates of this VA span disorder. For this purpose, 12 French dyslexic children with severe reading and VA span disorders and 12 age-matched control children were engaged in a categorisation task under fMRI. Two flanked and isolated conditions were designed which both involved multiple-element simultaneous visual processing but taxed visual attention differently. For skilled readers, flanked stimuli processing activated a large bilateral cortical network comprising the superior and inferior parietal cortex, the inferior temporal cortex, the striate and extrastriate visual cortex, the middle frontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex while the less attention-demanding task of isolated stimuli only activated the inferior occipito-temporal cortex bilaterally. With respect to controls, the dyslexic children showed significantly reduced activation within bilateral parietal and temporal areas during flanked processing, but no difference during the isolated condition. The neural correlates of the processes involved in attention-demanding multi-element processing tasks were more specifically addressed by contrasting the flanked and the isolated conditions. This contrast elicited activation of the left precuneus/superior parietal lobule in the controls, but not in the dyslexic children. These findings provide new insights on the role of parietal regions, in particular the left superior parietal lobule, in the visual attention span and in developmental dyslexia.
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