Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Early research on the role of the occipitotemporal region in reading often focused on characterizing a single region in the mid fusiform, commonly called the visual word form area. Since then, focus has gradually shifted from a single region to the entire length of the occipitotemporal region, looking at how the sensitivity and tuning changes as you move from posterior to anterior regions.
Van der mark used an approach like this to look at dyslexic and control children aged 9-12 years. Eighteen normal reading and twenty four dyslexic children performed a phonological lexical decision task in the scanner. Children saw words, pseudohomophones (words that sounded like real words but spelled differently, like “taksi”), pseudowords (pronounceable nonwords), and false fonts. The children were asked to decide whether something sounded like a real word. For example, the correct response would be “yes” for words and pseudohomophones and “no” for pseudowords and false fonts.
The children with dyslexia did worse for pseudohomophones and pseudowords and performed similarly to the controls for words and false fonts.
The authors report two main findings. First, the control children showed a gradient of print specialization in the occipitotemporal region, with more activation to false fonts in posterior regions and more activation to real letters and anterior regions. The control children did not show this trend.
Second, control showed more activation for pseudowords and pseudohomophones than words, while children with dyslexia didn't.
This is a nice study that takes a more nuanced approach to dyslexia brain differences. Brem and colleagues also got similar results with the words and false fonts.
By now there's quite a bit of literature on the specialization of the visual word form area. My own struggle, as I’m also doing this type of research, is the question of what does it all mean? We have all the studies now showing brain differences between control and dyslexic children, but what does it mean to have more or less activation? That the brains of dyslexic children process words differently? I could've told you that before we stared.
So what would help? Perhaps the next step in dyslexia research, now that we've mapped out the basic differences, is to zoom in as much as we can on the relationships between brain differences and behavioral differences. Perhaps more fine grained behavioral measures would help, or more interventional studies that looked at brain activation before and after training. It may also help to look at functional connectivity and how different brain regions interact. Anyone else have ideas?
van der Mark S, Bucher K, Maurer U, Schulz E, Brem S, Buckelmüller J, Kronbichler M, Loenneker T, Klaver P, Martin E, & Brandeis D (2009). Children with dyslexia lack multiple specializations along the visual word-form (VWF) system. NeuroImage, 47 (4), 1940-9 PMID: 19446640