In adults, reading ability is linked to the size and structure of the left arcuate fasciculus - a bridge-like structure in the brain that connects two regions associated with written and spoken language. In people that have had difficulty reading their entire life, a condition called developmental dyslexia, this bridge is smaller and less structurally sound. Until recently, it was unknown if the architecture of this bridge determines how easily we can read, or if it's a consequence of how often we practice reading.
Now research of children just beginning to read shows that kids with early signs of dyslexia have a smaller and less-organized left arcuate fasciculus. This study, led by researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology's McGovern Institute for Brain Research, is notable because it suggests that the size and integrity of this region of the brain may influence reading ability. The applications of these findings are discussed in the MIT press release:
About 10 percent of the U.S. population suffers from dyslexia, a condition that makes learning to read difficult. Dyslexia is usually diagnosed around second grade, but the results of a new study from MIT could help identify those children before they even begin reading, so they can be given extra help earlier.
This study builds on previous studies, including the work of UCSF's Fumiko Hoeft, MD, PhD, formerly an instructor at Stanford’s Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research. The center's director, reading development expert Brian Wandell, PhD, weighs in on the findings of this new study in the release:
“The work identifies a clear marker that predicts reading, and the marker is present at a very young age. Their results raise questions about the biological basis of the marker and provides scientists with excellent new targets for study,” says Wandell, who was not part of the research team.
As the study explains, people with dyslexia often use specialized educational tools to address their reading skills and needs. Since this requires the coordinated care of parents, medical professionals and teachers, brain scans could help people manage dyslexia sooner and more effectively.
Holly MacCormick is a writing intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs. She is a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California-Santa Cruz.
Previously: Researchers use brain imaging to predict which dyslexics will learn to read, Imaging study shows little difference between poor readers with low IQ and poor readers with high IQ, Improving patients’ lives through video games and Stanford study furthers understanding of reading disorders
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