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Connectivity precedes function in the development of the visual word form area

Nature Neuroscience volume 19, pages 12501255 (2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

What determines the cortical location at which a given functionally specific region will arise in development? We tested the hypothesis that functionally specific regions develop in their characteristic locations because of pre-existing differences in the extrinsic connectivity of that region to the rest of the brain. We exploited the visual word form area (VWFA) as a test case, scanning children with diffusion and functional imaging at age 5, before they learned to read, and at age 8, after they learned to read. We found the VWFA developed functionally in this interval and that its location in a particular child at age 8 could be predicted from that child's connectivity fingerprints (but not functional responses) at age 5. These results suggest that early connectivity instructs the functional development of the VWFA, possibly reflecting a general mechanism of cortical development.

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Acknowledgements

We thank B. Fischl and M. Reuter for their guidance and advice on longitudinal registration, S. Robinson and O. Ozernov-Palchik for assistance with participant coordination and A. Park for technical assistance. We thank the Athinoula A. Martinos Imaging Center at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and its staff. We also thank our READ Study research testers, school coordinators and principals, and participating families. This work was funded by NICHD/NIH grant F32HD079169 to Z.M.S., NIH/NICHD R01HD067312 to J.D.E.G. and N.G., Ellison Medical Foundation, EY13455 to N.K., and grant 1444913 from McGovern Institute for Brain Research MINT to N.K. and Z.M.S.

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Affiliations

  1. Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

    • Zeynep M Saygin
    • , Sara D Beach
    • , Jenelle Feather
    • , John D E Gabrieli
    •  & Nancy Kanwisher
  2. McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

    • Zeynep M Saygin
    • , Sara D Beach
    • , John D E Gabrieli
    •  & Nancy Kanwisher
  3. Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

    • David E Osher
  4. Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA.

    • Elizabeth S Norton
  5. Department of Biological Sciences, Barnard College, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA.

    • Deanna A Youssoufian
  6. Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

    • Nadine Gaab

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Contributions

Z.M.S., D.E.O. and N.K. designed the experiments. Z.M.S., E.S.N., D.A.Y., S.D.B., N.G., J.D.E.G. and N.K. conducted the experiments or supplied data. Z.M.S., D.E.O., D.A.Y. and J.F. analyzed the data. Z.M.S., D.E.O. and N.K. wrote the manuscript.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Zeynep M Saygin.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.4354

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