Dyslexic children lack word selectivity gradients in occipito-temporal and inferior frontal cortex

Neuroimage Clin. 2015 Feb 26;7:742-54. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2015.02.013. eCollection 2015.


fMRI studies using a region-of-interest approach have revealed that the ventral portion of the left occipito-temporal cortex, which is specialized for orthographic processing of visually presented words (and includes the so-called "visual word form area", VWFA), is characterized by a posterior-to-anterior gradient of increasing selectivity for words in typically reading adults, adolescents, and children (e.g. Brem et al., 2006, 2009). Similarly, the left inferior frontal cortex (IFC) has been shown to exhibit a medial-to-lateral gradient of print selectivity in typically reading adults (Vinckier et al., 2007). Functional brain imaging studies of dyslexia have reported relative underactivity in left hemisphere occipito-temporal and inferior frontal regions using whole-brain analyses during word processing tasks. Hence, the question arises whether gradient sensitivities in these regions are altered in dyslexia. Indeed, a region-of-interest analysis revealed the gradient-specific functional specialization in the occipito-temporal cortex to be disrupted in dyslexic children (van der Mark et al., 2009). Building on these studies, we here (1) investigate if a word-selective gradient exists in the inferior frontal cortex in addition to the occipito-temporal cortex in normally reading children, (2) compare typically reading with dyslexic children, and (3) examine functional connections between these regions in both groups. We replicated the previously reported anterior-to-posterior gradient of increasing selectivity for words in the left occipito-temporal cortex in typically reading children, and its absence in the dyslexic children. Our novel finding is the detection of a pattern of increasing selectivity for words along the medial-to-lateral axis of the left inferior frontal cortex in typically reading children and evidence of functional connectivity between the most lateral aspect of this area and the anterior aspects of the occipito-temporal cortex. We report absence of an IFC gradient and connectivity between the lateral aspect of the IFC and the anterior occipito-temporal cortex in the dyslexic children. Together, our results provide insights into the source of the anomalies reported in previous studies of dyslexia and add to the growing evidence of an orthographic role of IFC in reading.

Keywords: Dyslexia; Inferior Frontal Cortex; Occipito-temporal Cortex; Regions of Interest; Visual Word Form System; Word Selectivity; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child
  • Dyslexia / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology