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Orthographic processing deficits in developmental dyslexia: Beyond the ventral visual stream

Marianna Boros, Jean-Luc Anton, Catherine Pech-Georgel, Jonathan Grainger, Marcin Szwed, Johannes C Ziegler
NeuroImage 2016, 128: 316-327
Fast effortless reading has been associated with the Visual Word Form Area (VWFA), a region in the ventral visual stream that specializes in the recognition of letter strings. Several neuroimaging studies of dyslexia revealed an underactivation of this region. However, most of these studies used reading tasks and/or were carried out on adults. Given that fluent reading is severely impaired in dyslexics, any underactivation might simply reflect a well-established reading deficit in impaired readers and could be the consequence rather than the cause of dyslexia. Here, we designed a task that does not rely on reading per se but that tapped early visual orthographic processing that forms the basis of reading. Dyslexic children aged 8-12years and age-matched controls were asked to search for letters, digits, and symbols in 5-element strings (Experiment 1). This novel task was complemented by a classic task known to activate the VWFA, namely the passive viewing of pseudowords and falsefonts (Experiment 2). We found that in addition to significant group differences in the VWFA, dyslexic children showed a significant underactivation of the middle occipital gyrus (MOG) relative to the control group. Several areas in the MOG are known for their engagement in visuospatial processing, and it has been proposed that the MOG is necessary for ordering the symbols in unfamiliar strings. Our results suggest that the VWFA deficit might be secondary to an impairment of visuospatial processing in the MOG. We argue that efficient processing in MOG in the course of reading acquisition is critical for the development of effortless fast visual word recognition in the VWFA.


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