Dynamics of letter string perception in the human occipitotemporal cortex

A. Tarkiainen, P. Helenius, P.C. Hansen, P.L. Cornelissen, R. Salmelin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

377 Citations (Scopus)


The inferior occipitotemporal brain areas, especially in the left hemisphere, have been shown to be involved in the processing of written words and letter strings. This processing probably occurs within 200 ms after presentation of the letter string. It has also been suggested that this activation may differ between fluent and dyslexic readers. Using whole-head magnetoencephalography, we studied the spatiotemporal dynamics of brain processes evoked by visually presented letter strings in 12 healthy adult subjects. Our achromatic stimuli consisted of rectangular patches in which single letters, two-letter syllables, four-letter words, or symbol strings of equal length were embedded and to which variable noise was added. This manipulation dissociated three different response patterns. The first of these patterns took place ~100 ms after stimulus onset, originated in areas surrounding the V1 cortex and was distributed along the ventral visual stream, extending laterally as far as V4v. This response was systematically modulated by noise but was insensitive to the stimulus content, suggesting involvement in early visual analysis. The second pattern took place ~150 ms after stimulus onset and was concentrated in the inferior occipitotemporal region with left-hemisphere dominance. This activation showed a preference for letter strings, and its strength and timing correlated with the speed at which the subjects were able to read words aloud. The third pattern also occurred in the time window ~150 ms after stimulus onset, but originated mainly in the right occipital area. Like the second pattern, it was modulated by string length, but showed no preference for letters compared with symbols. The present data strongly support the special role of the left inferior occipitotemporal cortex in visual word processing within 200 ms after stimulus onset.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2119-2131
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 1999
Externally publishedYes


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