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Hum Brain Mapp. 2012 Nov;33(11):2572-85. doi: 10.1002/hbm.21384. Epub 2011 Sep 23.

What's the story? The tale of reading fluency told at speed.

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Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


Fluent readers process written text rapidly and accurately, and comprehend what they read. Historically, reading fluency has been modeled as the product of discrete skills such as single word decoding. More recent conceptualizations emphasize that fluent reading is the product of competency in, and the coordination of, multiple cognitive sub-skills (a multi-componential view). In this study, we examined how the pattern of activation in core reading regions changes as the ability to read fluently is manipulated through reading speed. We evaluated 13 right-handed adults with a novel fMRI task assessing fluent sentence reading and lower-order letter reading at each participant's normal fluent reading speed, as well as constrained (slowed) and accelerated reading speeds. Comparing fluent reading conditions with rest revealed regions including bilateral occipito-fusiform, left middle temporal, and inferior frontal gyral clusters across reading speeds. The selectivity of these regions' responses to fluent sentence reading was shown by comparison with the letter reading task. Region of interest analyses showed that at constrained and accelerated speeds these regions responded significantly more to fluent sentence reading. Critically, as reading speed increased, activation increased in a single reading-related region: occipital/fusiform cortex (left > right). These results demonstrate that while brain regions engaged in reading respond selectively during fluent reading, these regions respond differently as the ability to read fluently is manipulated. Implications for our understanding of reading fluency, reading development, and reading disorders are discussed.

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