White matter associations with spelling performance

Romi Sagi, J. S.H. Taylor, Kyriaki Neophytou, Tamar Cohen, Brenda Rapp, Kathleen Rastle, Michal Ben-Shachar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Multiple neurocognitive processes are involved in the highly complex task of producing written words. Yet, little is known about the neural pathways that support spelling in healthy adults. We assessed the associations between performance on a difficult spelling-to-dictation task and microstructural properties of language-related white matter pathways, in a sample of 73 native English-speaking neurotypical adults. Participants completed a diffusion magnetic resonance imaging scan and a cognitive assessment battery. Using constrained spherical deconvolution modeling and probabilistic tractography, we reconstructed dorsal and ventral white matter tracts of interest, bilaterally, in individual participants. Spelling associations were found in both dorsal and ventral stream pathways. In high-performing spellers, spelling scores significantly correlated with fractional anisotropy (FA) within the left inferior longitudinal fasciculus, a ventral stream pathway. In low-performing spellers, spelling scores significantly correlated with FA within the third branch of the right superior longitudinal fasciculus, a dorsal pathway. An automated analysis of spelling errors revealed that high- and low- performing spellers also differed in their error patterns, diverging primarily in terms of the orthographic distance between their errors and the correct spelling, compared to the phonological plausibility of their spelling responses. The results demonstrate the complexity of the neurocognitive architecture of spelling. The distinct white matter associations and error patterns detected in low- and high- performing spellers suggest that they rely on different cognitive processes, such that high-performing spellers rely more on lexical-orthographic representations, while low-performing spellers rely more on phoneme-to-grapheme conversion.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBrain Structure and Function
Early online date25 Mar 2024
StateE-pub ahead of print - 25 Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2024.


  • DTI
  • Diffusion MRI
  • Probabilistic tractography
  • Spelling
  • White matter
  • Written word production


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