We used fMRI to examine the neural substrates of sublexical phoneme-grapheme conversion during spelling in a group of healthy young adults. Participants performed a writing-to-dictation task involving irregular words (e.g., choir), plausible nonwords (e.g., kroid), and a control task of drawing familiar geometric shapes (e.g., squares). Written production of both irregular words and nonwords engaged a left-hemisphere perisylvian network associated with reading/spelling and phonological processing skills. Effects of lexicality, manifested by increased activation during nonword relative to irregular word spelling, were noted in anterior perisylvian regions (posterior inferior frontal gyrus/operculum/precentral gyrus/insula), and in left ventral occipito-temporal cortex. In addition to enhanced neural responses within domain-specific components of the language network, the increased cognitive demands associated with spelling nonwords engaged domain-general frontoparietal cortical networks involved in selective attention and executive control. These results elucidate the neural substrates of sublexical processing during written language production and complement lesion-deficit correlation studies of phonological agraphia.
Keywords: Phonological agraphia; Phonological processing; Spelling; Sublexical processing; Writing; fMRI.
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