Brain Measures Predict Future Improvement in Children With Dyslexia

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Accessibility: Intermediate

Disclaimer: My PI is an author on this paper.

There is a lot of variability in outcomes for children diagnosed with dyslexia. Some children improve greatly over time, while others don't. Today, we're looking at a paper that asks whether it's possible to predict improvement in children with dyslexia.

Fumiko Hoeft and colleagues scanned children with and without dyslexia while performing a word rhyme task. They also tested the children on several reading measures. Two and half years later, they retested the children again on the same reading measures. Some of the children improved, while others didn't . The question then, is whether there is something from the brain scans or test scores in the first session that can predict performance 2 1/2 years later.

The researchers found two brain measures that predicted improvement in reading skills: greater white matter integrity in the right superior longitudinal fasciculus, and activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus during the rhyming task. Note that these regions are not your typical language regions. In fact, they are the right hemisphere counterparts of language processing regions in typical readers. Also, these didn’t correlate with reading improvement in control readers.This suggests that rather than imitating what typical readers are doing, the dyslexics who improve are bringing in compensatory mechanisms.

So if we have a dyslexic child, how accurately can we predict future improvement? The researchers found that brain data from those two regions by themselves predicted reading gains with 72% accuracy. When the researchers used data from the entire brain, they predicted reading gains with 90% accuracy. (Chance would be 50%. The researchers were trying to predict whether a child’s improvement was below or above the median improvement for the entire group.)

These results are an interesting case of brain data giving us more information the behavioral measures. None of the behavioral measures predicted which children would improve, but the brain data did.

One might ask how useful these results would be for dyslexics. On the one hand, any information is helpful. On the other, if you are in the group predicted to not show improvements, would you really want to know? One good thing about this type of research is that perhaps if we keep going in this direction, we might be able to not only predict improvement, but predict improvement to different types of interventions, thus leading to better treatment.

Hoeft F, McCandliss BD, Black JM, Gantman A, Zakerani N, Hulme C, Lyytinen H, Whitfield-Gabrieli S, Glover GH, Reiss AL, & Gabrieli JD (2011). Neural systems predicting long-term outcome in dyslexia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108 (1), 361-6 PMID: 21173250


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