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Reading Activates Two Brain Networks

by Mahmmod Shar

Penny Min

When reading, two distinct brain networks merge the meaning of individual words to create a more complex, higher-order meaning.

The findings, published in the journal The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and led by Oscar Woolnough from UTHealth Houston and Nitin Tandon of the McGovern Medical School, suggest the study will better comprehend how the language network’s scattered hubs cooperate and interact to enable humans to comprehend complicated phrases.

“Our brains are remarkably interconnected, and for us to understand language requires a precise sequence of rapid, dynamic processes to occur in multiple sites all across our brain.”- Oscar Woolnough

The study team observed the brain activity of individuals who had electrodes surgically placed into their brains to localize epilepsy in order to identify the specific activities and connections of the brain regions involved in reading. These people’s brain activity was recorded as they read sentences of three different types: conventional sentences, “Jabberwocky” sentences, which have appropriate grammar and syntax but contain nonsense words that render them incomprehensible, and lastly, lists of words or nonsensical words.

These recordings led to the identification of two brain networks that are essential to the reading process. One network involves the brain’s frontal lobe, which gradually becomes more active as a sentence’s complexity rises, and the temporal lobe.

In order to understand the context of a phrase and make it easier to understand and process each new word that is read, the second network integrates a distinct section of the temporal lobe of the brain that connects with a part of the frontal lobe.

“Implanted electrodes in the brain provide us an unparalleled insight into the inner workings of the human mind, especially for processes that are rapid, such as reading,” says Tandon.

The studies suggest that most functions, such as language creation or comprehension, are best described as highly ephemeral states that many different brain regions acquire through fleeting but crucial interactions, per Tandon.

Understanding the physics behind the incredibly rapid and intricate reading process will help researchers better understand how the dyslexic brain functions. Ultimately, they hope their research will help guide treatment decisions for the 15% of Americans struggling with reading.

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