Investigating the ventral-lexical, dorsal-sublexical model of basic reading processes using diffusion tensor imaging

Jacqueline Cummine, Wenjun Dai, Ron Borowsky, Layla Gould, Claire Rollans, Carol Boliek
Brain Structure & Function 2015, 220 (1): 445-55
Recent results from diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) studies provide evidence of a ventral-lexical stream and a dorsal-sublexical stream associated with reading processing. We investigated the relationship between behavioural reading speed for stimuli thought to rely on either the ventral-lexical, dorsal-sublexical, or both streams and white matter via fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD) using DTI tractography. Participants (N = 32) overtly named exception words (e.g., 'one', ventral-lexical), regular words (e.g., 'won', both streams), nonwords ('wum', dorsal-sublexical) and pseudohomophones ('wun', dorsal-sublexical) in a behavioural lab. Each participant then underwent a brain scan that included a 30-directional DTI sequence. Tractography was used to extract FA and MD values from four tracts of interest: inferior longitudinal fasciculus, uncinate fasciculus, arcuate fasciculus, and inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus. Median reaction times (RTs) for reading exception words and regular words both showed a significant correlation with the FA of the uncinate fasciculus thought to underlie the ventral processing stream, such that response time decreased as FA increased. In addition, RT for exception and regular words showed a relationship with MD of the uncinate fasciculus, such that response time increased as MD increased. Multiple regression analyses revealed that exception word RT accounted for unique variability in FA of the uncinate over and above regular words. There were no robust relationships found between pseudohomophones, or nonwords, and tracts thought to underlie the dorsal processing stream. These results support the notion that word recognition, in general, and exception word reading in particular, rely on ventral-lexical brain regions.

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