Reading is paramount in our literate society;unfortunately it does not come easily to 5-12% of the population who suffer the heritable condition of developmental dyslexia, a reading difficulty unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of educational opportunities. Modern imaging technology has demonstrated that typical readers rely on two left-lateralized pathways: A dorsal circuit mediating phonological processing and a ventral, visual pathway, including the """"""""visual word form area"""""""", VWFA, specialized for the fast recognition of single words. How these pathways are affected in dyslexia, has been a topic of intense research. Most current theories posit a weakness in phonological processing as the primary problem and imaging studies have revealed physiological and anatomical differences in left parietal cortex when comparing dyslexic and non- dyslexic readers. At the same time, there are many reports of decreased activity in the ventral visual pathway, which represents another important part of the reading system leading to semantic access. The application's long-term objective is to employ a novel technical approach that will lead to better characterization of the neural bases of both these ventral and dorsal streams and differences in dyslexia. To date, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology has been limited by the fact that the density of selective neurons as well as the broadness of their tuning contributes to the average activity measured. FMRI rapid adaptation (fMRI- RA), however, probes neuronal selectivity more directly and allows a better characterization of neuron-level processing and its link to behavior. This is critical if we are to understand findings about hypo- and hyper- activity reported in various regions of the brain in current studies of dyslexia, as the interpretation of these results has been somewhat limited. Specifically, the project will examine selectivity differences in phonological and orthographic representations in dyslexic relative to typical readers by comparing adults with and without dyslexia. The study will first test the hypothesis that adults with dyslexia who have normal real word reading skills (albeit poor pseudoword reading) show normal selectivity for real words in their VWFA (preserved left VWFA or right VWFA compensation), while those dyslexics with poor real word reading skills do not;and that real word reading ability correlates with selectivity in the VWFA (Aim 1). Secondly, the study will test the hypothesis that adults with dyslexia, due to their weaknesses in phonological coding, show less selectivity for phonological processing in left parietal cortex than typical readers, and that pseudoword reading ability correlates with parietal selectivity (Aim 2). These studies will make it possible, for the first time, to gauge specificity of brain activity in dyslexia rather than simply activation levels. This information is critical if we are to understand the mechanisms that lead to disorders of reading and importantly, guide which interventions should be applied, as current treatments are likely to impact different brain systems. Advancing this field could reduce the number of impaired readers and limit the detrimental educational and vocational consequences of dyslexia.

Public Health Relevance

Developmental dyslexia is a common (5-12% of the population) reading disability, unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of educational opportunities. A new imaging method will be used to better understand the specificity of the brain circuits involved in reading by comparing dyslexic and non- dyslexic college students. The results will advance our understanding of the mechanisms that lead to disorders of reading and potentially guide future interventions, eventually reducing the number of impaired readers and limiting the detrimental educational and vocational consequences of dyslexia.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Language and Communication Study Section (LCOM)
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Miller, Brett
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Georgetown University
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Riesenhuber, Maximilian; Glezer, Laurie S (2017) Evidence for rapid localist plasticity in the ventral visual stream: The example of words. Lang Cogn Neurosci 32:286-294
Glezer, Laurie S; Eden, Guinevere; Jiang, Xiong et al. (2016) Uncovering phonological and orthographic selectivity across the reading network using fMRI-RA. Neuroimage 138:248-256
Riesenhuber, Maximilian (2012) Getting a handle on how the brain generates complexity. Network 23:123-7