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Keywords:

  • Adults;
  • irregular words;
  • lexical reading;
  • nonwords;
  • optical imaging;
  • phonological reading;
  • reading aloud

Abstract

Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) has become increasingly established as a promising technique for monitoring functional brain activity. To our knowledge, no study has yet used fNIRS to investigate overt reading of irregular words and nonwords with a full coverage of the cerebral regions involved in reading processes. The aim of our study was to design and validate a protocol using fNIRS for the assessment of overt reading. Twelve healthy French-speaking adults underwent one session of fNIRS recording while performing an overt reading of 13 blocks of irregular words and nonwords. Reading blocks were separated by baseline periods during which participants were instructed to fixate a cross. Sources (n = 55) and detectors (n = 16) were placed bilaterally over frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital regions. Two wavelengths were used: 690 nm, more sensitive to deoxyhemoglobin (HbR) concentration changes, and 830 nm, more sensitive to oxyhemoglobin (HbO) concentration changes. For all participants, total hemoglobin (HbT) concentrations (HbO + HbR) were significantly higher than baseline for both irregular word and nonword reading in the inferior frontal gyri, the middle and superior temporal gyri, and the occipital cortices bilaterally. In the temporal gyri, although the difference was not significant, [HbT] values were higher in the left hemisphere. In the bilateral inferior frontal gyri, higher [HbT] values were found in nonword than in irregular word reading. This activation could be related to the grapheme-to-phoneme conversion characterizing the phonological pathway of reading. Our findings confirm that fNIRS is an appropriate technique to assess the neural correlates of overt reading.