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Neuropsychologia. 2004;42(13):1768-80.

The pathophysiology of letter-by-letter reading.

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1
Institut de Neurologie, Hôpital de la Salpêtrière, 47/83 Bd de l'Hôpital, 75651 Paris CEDEX 13, France. laurent.cohen@psl.ap-hop-paris.fr

Abstract

Pure alexia is a frequent and incapacitating consequence of left occipitotemporal lesions. It is thought to result from the disruption or the disconnection of the visual word form area (VWFA), a region reproducibly located within the left occipito-temporal sulcus, and encoding the abstract identity of strings of visual letters. Alexic patients often retain effective single letter recognition abilities, and develop an effortful letter-by-letter reading strategy which is the basis of most rehabilitation techniques. We study a patient who developed letter-by-letter reading following the surgical removal of left occipito-temporal regions. Using anatomical and functional MRI in the patient and in normal controls, we show that alexia resulted from the deafferentation of left fusiform cortex, and we analyze the network of brain regions subtending letter-by-letter reading. We propose that during letter-by-letter reading (1) letters are identified in the intact right-hemispheric visual system, with a central role for the region symetrical to the VWFA; (2) letters are serially transferred to the left hemisphere through the intact segment of the corpus callosum; (3) word identity is eventually recovered in the left hemisphere through verbal working memory processes involving inferior frontal and supramarginal cortex.

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