The ability to extract visual word forms quickly and efficiently is essential for using reading as a tool for learning. We describe the first longitudinal fMRI study to chart individual changes in cortical sensitivity to written words as reading develops. We conducted four annual measurements of brain function and reading skills in a heterogeneous group of children, initially 7-12 years old. The results show age-related increase in children's cortical sensitivity to word visibility in posterior left occipito-temporal sulcus (LOTS), nearby the anatomical location of the visual word form area. Moreover, the rate of increase in LOTS word sensitivity specifically correlates with the rate of improvement in sight word efficiency, a measure of speeded overt word reading. Other cortical regions, including V1, posterior parietal cortex, and the right homologue of LOTS, did not demonstrate such developmental changes. These results provide developmental support for the hypothesis that LOTS is part of the cortical circuitry that extracts visual word forms quickly and efficiently and highlight the importance of developing cortical sensitivity to word visibility in reading acquisition.
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View details for PubMedID 21261451