Developmental Changes in Word Processing After Adolescence

Friday, May 14, 2010

When does brain development for reading stop? We often focus on school aged children, but what about the later teen years? To answer this question, Brem and colleagues tested adolescents (age 15-17) and adults (19-31) in a study using fMRI and EEG.

Participants were presented with words and symbols strings and asked to detect repeats. It’s an easy task, so it’s not surprising that the two groups had equal reading accuracy and speed. However, there were brain differences.

Brem focused on two early ERP components. The P1 component, a positive peak at 100 ms, is sensitive to low level stimulus characteristics like luminance and size. Brem found that this component had a higher amplitude for symbol strings and for words in both groups.

The N1 component occurs later (140-220ms) and is sensitive to higher level factors like stimulus category. Brem found that the later part of the N1 component was more pronounced to words than symbol strings. Source localization on the N1 component  found that the early part of the N1 localized to the temporal parietal occipital junction, while the late N1 localized to the left fusiform.

There were differences between the two groups. Adolescents had higher P1 and N1 amplitudes than adults. The N1 latency also became faster with age for words but not symbol strings.

Brem also used fMRI to look at the spatial organization of the fusiform gyrus*. Posterior fusiform regions responded more to symbol strings than words, while anterior regions responded more to words than symbol strings.

The left fusiform region seems to be related to reading skill. Bigger N1 amplitude was correlated with fewer mistakes in a reading test.  Higher fMRI signal in the anterior fusiform was correlated with faster reading.

It’s interesting that despite similar behavior between groups, brain measures still differ. I do wonder about differences within the adults as well. 19-31 is a pretty big range, so I'd like to see what happens after age 18.

*Using five regions of interest. 6 mm spheres based on Taleraich coordinates.

Brem S, Bucher K, Halder P, Summers P, Dietrich T, Martin E, & Brandeis D (2006). Evidence for developmental changes in the visual word processing network beyond adolescence. NeuroImage, 29 (3), 822-37 PMID: 16257546


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