Semantic dementia (SD) is a neurodegenerative disease that occurs following the atrophy of the anterior temporal lobes (ATLs). It is characterised by the degradation of semantic knowledge and difficulties in reading exception words (surface dyslexia). This disease has highlighted the role of the ATLs in the process of exception word reading. However, imaging studies in healthy subjects have failed to detect activation of the ATLs during exception word reading. The aim of the present study was to test whether the functional brain regions that mediate exception word reading in normal readers overlap those brain regions atrophied in SD. In Study One, we map the brain regions of grey matter atrophy in AF, a patient with mild SD and surface dyslexia profile. In Study Two, we map the activation pattern associated with exception word compared to pseudoword reading in young, healthy participants using fMRI. The results revealed areas of significant activation in healthy subjects engaged in the exception word reading task in the left anterior middle temporal gyrus, in a region observed to be atrophic in the patient AF. These results reconcile neuropsychological and functional imaging data, revealing the critical role of the left ATL in exception word reading.
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