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Object recognition in Williams syndrome: uneven ventral stream activation


Kirsten O’Hearn, Laboratory of Neurocognitive Development, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, 112 Loeffler Bldg., 121 Meyran Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA; e-mail:


Williams syndrome (WS) is a genetic disorder associated with severe visuospatial deficits, relatively strong language skills, heightened social interest, and increased attention to faces. On the basis of the visuospatial deficits, this disorder has been characterized primarily as a deficit of the dorsal stream, the occipitoparietal brain regions that subserve visuospatial processing. However, some evidence indicates that this disorder may also affect the development of the ventral stream, the occipitotemporal cortical regions that subserve face and object recognition. The present studies examined ventral stream function in WS, with the hypothesis that faces would produce a relatively more mature pattern of ventral occipitotemporal activation, relative to other objects that are also represented across these visual areas. Using functional magnetic imaging, we compared activation patterns during viewing of human faces, cat faces, houses and shoes in individuals with WS (age 14–27), typically developing 6–9-year-olds (matched approximately on mental age), and typically developing 14–26-year-olds (matched on chronological age). Typically developing individuals exhibited changes in the pattern of activation over age, consistent with previous reports. The ventral stream topography of individuals with WS differed from both control groups, however, reflecting the same level of activation to face stimuli as chronological age matches, but less activation to house stimuli than either mental age or chronological age matches. We discuss the possible causes of this unusual topography and implications for understanding the behavioral profile of people with WS.