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Neuron. 2011 Sep 8;71(5):941-53. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.06.036.

Visual feature-tolerance in the reading network.

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Neurosciences Program and Medical Scientist Training Program, Stanford School of Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


A century of neurology and neuroscience shows that seeing words depends on ventral occipital-temporal (VOT) circuitry. Typically, reading is learned using high-contrast line-contour words. We explored whether a specific VOT region, the visual word form area (VWFA), learns to see only these words or recognizes words independent of the specific shape-defining visual features. Word forms were created using atypical features (motion-dots, luminance-dots) whose statistical properties control word-visibility. We measured fMRI responses as word form visibility varied, and we used TMS to interfere with neural processing in specific cortical circuits, while subjects performed a lexical decision task. For all features, VWFA responses increased with word-visibility and correlated with performance. TMS applied to motion-specialized area hMT+ disrupted reading performance for motion-dots, but not line-contours or luminance-dots. A quantitative model describes feature-convergence in the VWFA and relates VWFA responses to behavioral performance. These findings suggest how visual feature-tolerance in the reading network arises through signal convergence from feature-specialized cortical areas.

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