Despite substantial efforts to connect cognitive-linguistic models with appropriate anatomical correlates, the question of which cognitive model best accounts for the neuropsychological and functional neuroimaging evidence remains open. The two most popular models are grounded in conceptually different bases and thus make quasi-distinct predictions in regard to the patterns of activation that should be observed in imaging investigations of linguistic processing. Dual-mechanism models propose that high-frequency regular and irregular words are processed through a lexicon-based word code, which facilitates their processing and pronunciation latencies relative to pseudowords. In contrast, single-mechanism models suggest the same behavioral effects can be explained through semantic mediation without the existence of a lexicon. In most previous studies, words and pronounceable pseudowords were presented in lexical-decision or word reading paradigms, and hemodynamic techniques were utilized to distinguish involved anatomical areas. The results typically indicated that both word classes activated largely congruent tissues, with a magnitude advantage for pseudowords in most or all activated regions. However, since the dual-mechanism model predicts both word types utilize the entire linguistic network, but that certain operations are merely obligatorily involved, these results do not sharply refute nor clearly support the model's main tenets. In the current study, we approach the dual- versus single-mechanism question differently by focusing on the temporal dynamics of MEG imaged neuronal activity, during performance of an oddball version of continuous lexical-decision, to determine whether the onset latency of any cortical language region shows effects of word class that are indicative of preferential versus obligatory processing pathways. The most remarkable aspect of our results indicated that both words and pseudowords initially activate the left posterior fusiform region, but that the spatiotemporal dynamics clearly distinguish the two word classes thereafter. For words, this left fusiform activation was followed by engagement of the left posterior inferior temporal, and subsequently activation reached the left posterior superior temporal region. For pseudowords, this sequential order of left temporal area activations was reversed, as activity proceeded from the left fusiform to the left superior temporal and then the left inferior temporal region. For both classes, this dynamic sequential spread manifested within the first 300 ms of stimulus processing. We contend these results provide strong support for the existence of dual-mechanisms underlying reading in a deep orthographic language (i.e., English).
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