White Matter and Reading Ability

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Accessibility:  Intermediate-Advanced

Hello folks.  Things are pretty busy over here and I might be having to review a lot of papers soon, so there's a possibility that entries here will get shorter and a bit more technical.  But we'll see.

Since reading is by nature a multimodal task involving both visual and language regions, it makes sense to look at brain connections in dyslexia. I've written once about white matter in dyslexia, when I blogged Bernard Chang’s PNH study. Today I'll cover two other studies that look at white matter and reading.

As a quick recap, brain tissue is often categorized into gray and white matter. White matter consists mostly of axons, the parts of neurons that send signals to other neurons. Therefore, white matter tracts carry information between brain regions and diffusion tensor imaging is a technique often used to study white matter.  You can take several measures with DTI, but one common one is fractional anisotropy, a measure of the directionality of water diffusion.  You can think of it as a measure of white matter integrity.

In one study, James Andrews and colleagues measured white matter integrity in preterm*  and term children. They found a correlation between reading skill and fractional anisotropy  in the corpus callosum, the large white matter tract that connects the two hemispheres. They also found a trend toward a correlation between reading skill and fractional anisotropy in the left temporal parietal region, a region often associated with reading. I'm surprised by the corpus callosum finding, and wonder its role might be in reading. Is the corpus callosum connecting language regions to their right hemisphere homologues? I also wonder if this is something general to the population, or a difference unique to preterm children. I guess we’ll have to see if this finding comes up in later studies.

Another DTI study found some more predictable results. Rimrodt and colleagues scanned the brains of children with dyslexia and normal-reading children between the ages of seven and 16 years. They found that children with dyslexia had lower FA in the left inferior frontal gyrus and the left temporoparietal region, both areas previously implicated in reading. Interestingly, they also found that the FA in some posterior areas involved in visual word processing (including the left fusiform) were correlated with speeded word reading.

*mean gestational age 30.5 weeks

ANDREWS, J., BEN-SHACHAR, M., YEATMAN, J., FLOM, L., LUNA, B., & FELDMAN, H. (2009). Reading performance correlates with white-matter properties in preterm and term children Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 52 (6) DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8749.2009.03456.x

Rimrodt, S., Peterson, D., Denckla, M., Kaufmann, W., & Cutting, L. (2010). White matter microstructural differences linked to left perisylvian language network in children with dyslexia Cortex, 46 (6), 739-749 DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2009.07.008


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