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Neuroimage. 2019 Aug 27;202:116135. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.116135. [Epub ahead of print]

Top-down activation of the visuo-orthographic system during spoken sentence processing.

Author information

1
Aix Marseille Univ, CNRS, LPL, Aix-en-Provence, France; INSERM-CEA, Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit, Neurospin Center, Gif-sur-Yvette, France. Electronic address: samuel.planton@cea.fr.
2
Aix Marseille Univ, Institute of Language, Communication and the Brain, Brain and Language Research Institute, Aix-en-Provence, France.
3
Aix Marseille Univ, CNRS, Centre IRM-INT, INT UMR, 7289, Marseille, France.
4
INSERM-CEA, Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit, Neurospin Center, Gif-sur-Yvette, France.
5
Aix Marseille Univ, CNRS, LPL, Aix-en-Provence, France.

Abstract

The left ventral occipitotemporal cortex (vOT) is considered the key area of the visuo-orthographic system. However, some studies reported that the area is also involved in speech processing tasks, especially those that require activation of orthographic knowledge. These findings suggest the existence of a top-down activation mechanism allowing such cross-modal activation. Yet, little is known about the involvement of the vOT in more natural speech processing situations like spoken sentence processing. Here, we addressed this issue in a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) study while manipulating the impacts of two factors, i.e., task demands (semantic vs. low-level perceptual task) and the quality of speech signals (sentences presented against clear vs. noisy background). Analyses were performed at the levels of whole brain and region-of-interest (ROI) focusing on the vOT voxels individually identified through a reading task. Whole brain analysis showed that processing spoken sentences induced activity in a large network including the regions typically involved in phonological, articulatory, semantic and orthographic processing. ROI analysis further specified that a significant part of the vOT voxels that responded to written words also responded to spoken sentences, thus, suggesting that the same area within the left occipitotemporal pathway contributes to both reading and speech processing. Interestingly, both analyses provided converging evidence that vOT responses to speech were sensitive to both task demands and quality of speech signals: Compared to the low-level perceptual task, activity of the area increased when efforts on comprehension were required. The impact of background noise depended on task demands. It led to a decrease of vOT activity in the semantic task but not in the low-level perceptual task. Our results provide new insights into the function of this key area of the reading network, notably by showing that its speech-induced top-down activation also generalizes to ecological speech processing situations.

KEYWORDS:

Left ventral occipitotemporal cortex; Natural speech processing; Speech in noise; Visual word form area; fMRI

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