The participation of the inferior temporal cortex in visual word perception and recognition raises several questions: Is there a directed processing stream proceeding anteriorly by continuous cortical processing? How fast are words processed within such an inferior temporal stream? Does this stream support implicit or explicit memory? To answer these questions, we analyzed the spatio-temporal relationship of event-related potentials, recorded directly from the inferior temporal cortex in epilepsy patients performing a continuous visual word recognition paradigm. Event-related potentials elicited an inferior temporal positivity in a strip along the left collateral sulcus. This potential exhibited a linear (r = 0.74) peak latency progression from posterior to anterior inferior temporal regions (approximately 15 cm/sec), indicating a directed, intracortical processing stream. Peak amplitudes and latencies showed reliable old/new effects with smaller amplitudes and shorter latencies for old as opposed to new words. Although the amplitude-old/new-effect occurred for all repeated words (e.g., implicit memory), the latency-old/new-effect occurred for correctly recognized old words only (e.g., explicit recognition). These results seem to dissociate two distinct mnemonic processes. The graded decrease of mean ITP peak amplitudes and latencies, however, does not allow us to exclude a single trace model as assumed for explicit recognition memory based on familiarity (Mandler : Psychol Rev 87:252-271). Regardless whether there is a dissociation between implicit and explicit memory in inferior temporal cortex or not, our findings are in accordance with an integrated inferior temporal processing stream for words that performs continuously semantic and mnemonic operations supporting both implicit and explicit memory.
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