Early involvement of dorsal and ventral pathways in visual word recognition: An ERP study

Cristina Rosazza, Qing Cai, Ludovico Minati, Yves Paulignan, Tatjana A. Nazir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visual expertise underlying reading is attributed to processes involving the left ventral visual pathway. However, converging evidence suggests that the dorsal visual pathway is also involved in early levels of visual word processing, especially when words are presented in unfamiliar visual formats. In the present study, event-related potentials (ERPs) were used to investigate the time course of the early engagement of the ventral and dorsal pathways during processing of orthographic stimuli (high and low frequency words, pseudowords and consonant strings) by manipulating visual format (familiar horizontal vs. unfamiliar vertical format). While early ERP components (P1 and N1) already distinguished between formats, the effect of stimulus type emerged at the latency of the N2 component (225-275 ms). The N2 scalp topography and sLORETA source localisation for this differentiation showed an occipito-temporal negativity for the horizontal format and a negativity that extended towards the dorsal regions for the vertical format. In a later time window (350-425 ms) ERPs elicited by vertically displayed stimuli distinguished words from pseudowords in the ventral area, as confirmed by source localisation. The sustained contribution of occipito-temporal processes for vertical stimuli suggests that the ventral pathway is essential for lexical access. Parietal regions appear to be involved when a serial mechanism of visual attention is required to shift attention from one letter to another. The two pathways cooperate during visual word recognition and processing in these pathways should not be considered as alternative but as complementary elements of reading.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-44
Number of pages13
JournalBrain Research
Publication statusPublished - May 26 2009


  • Dorsal/ventral pathways
  • Event-related potential (ERP)
  • Reading
  • Unfamiliar format

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Molecular Biology


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