Neural signatures of lexical tone reading

Hum Brain Mapp. 2015 Jan;36(1):304-12. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22629. Epub 2014 Sep 5.


Research on how lexical tone is neuroanatomically represented in the human brain is central to our understanding of cortical regions subserving language. Past studies have exclusively focused on tone perception of the spoken language, and little is known as to the lexical tone processing in reading visual words and its associated brain mechanisms. In this study, we performed two experiments to identify neural substrates in Chinese tone reading. First, we used a tone judgment paradigm to investigate tone processing of visually presented Chinese characters. We found that, relative to baseline, tone perception of printed Chinese characters were mediated by strong brain activation in bilateral frontal regions, left inferior parietal lobule, left posterior middle/medial temporal gyrus, left inferior temporal region, bilateral visual systems, and cerebellum. Surprisingly, no activation was found in superior temporal regions, brain sites well known for speech tone processing. In activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis to combine results of relevant published studies, we attempted to elucidate whether the left temporal cortex activities identified in Experiment one is consistent with those found in previous studies of auditory lexical tone perception. ALE results showed that only the left superior temporal gyrus and putamen were critical in auditory lexical tone processing. These findings suggest that activation in the superior temporal cortex associated with lexical tone perception is modality-dependent.

Keywords: activation likelihood estimation; functional magnetic resonance imaging; language; pitch; prosody; temporal cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Comprehension
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Judgment / physiology
  • Language*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Reading*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen