Neural network for Braille reading and the speech-reading convergence in the blind: Similarities and differences to visual reading
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All writing systems represent units of spoken language. Studies on the neural correlates of reading in different languages show that this skill relies on access to brain areas dedicated to speech processing. Speech-reading convergence onto a common perisylvian network is therefore considered universal among different writing systems. Using fMRI, we test whether this holds true also for tactile Braille reading in the blind. The neural networks for Braille and visual reading overlapped in the left ventral occipitotemporal (vOT) cortex. Even though we showed similar perisylvian specialization for speech in both groups, blind subjects did not engage this speech system for reading. In contrast to the sighted, speech-reading convergence in the blind was absent in the perisylvian network. Instead, the blind engaged vOT not only in reading but also in speech processing. The involvement of the vOT in speech processing and its engagement in reading in the blind suggests that vOT is included in a modality independent language network in the blind, also evidenced by functional connectivity results. The analysis of individual speech-reading convergence suggests that there may be segregated neuronal populations in the vOT for speech processing and reading in the blind.
Blind , Braille , Speech-reading convergence , Reading , vOT , Plasticity
Dzięgiel-Fivet, G., Plewko, J., Szczerbiński, M., Marchewka, A., Szwed, M. and Jednoróg, K. (2021) 'Neural network for Braille reading and the speech-reading convergence in the blind: Similarities and differences to visual reading', Neuroimage, 231, 117851 (11pp). doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.117851