Cognitive theories on reading propose that the characteristics of written stimuli determine how they are processed in the brain. However, whether the brain distinguishes between regular words, irregular words, and pseudowords already at an early stage of the reading process is still subject to debate. Here we used chronometric TMS to address this issue. During the first 140 msec of regular word, irregular word, and pseudoword reading, TMS was used to disrupt the function of the ventral occipitotemporal, posterior middle temporal, and supramarginal gyri, which are key areas involved in orthographic, semantic, and phonological processing, respectively. Early TMS stimulation delivered on posterior middle temporal and supramarginal gyri affected regular and irregular word, but not pseudoword, reading. In contrast, ventral occipitotemporal disruption affected both word and pseudoword reading. We thus found evidence for an early distinction between word and pseudoword processing in the semantic and phonological systems, but not in the orthographic system.

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