Development of neural mechanisms for reading


The complexities of pediatric brain imaging have precluded studies that trace the neural development of cognitive skills acquired during childhood. Using a task that isolates reading-related brain activity and minimizes confounding performance effects, we carried out a cross-sectional functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study using subjects whose ages ranged from 6 to 22 years. We found that learning to read is associated with two patterns of change in brain activity: increased activity in left-hemisphere middle temporal and inferior frontal gyri and decreased activity in right inferotemporal cortical areas. Activity in the left-posterior superior temporal sulcus of the youngest readers was associated with the maturation of their phonological processing abilities. These findings inform current reading models and provide strong support for Orton's 1925 theory of reading development.

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Figure 1: Feature detection and the implicit-reading fMRI task.
Figure 2: Scatter plots of feature detection performance.
Figure 3: Feature detection and implicit reading task-related activity for the entire sample.
Figure 4: Implicit reading in adults and children.
Figure 5: Development of the neural basis of word processing.
Figure 6: Scatter plots of developmental effects in fMRI BOLD response for representative cortical regions.
Figure 7: The relationship between word processing and measures of phonology in children.


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This work was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD40095), the National Institute of Mental Health (F31 MH6500), and by the Georgetown University General Clinical Research Center. We wish to thank M. Miranda, M. Lansdale, S. Baron, A. Verbalis, L. Penniman, C. Montgomery and K. Cappell for contributing to data collection. We thank J. Van Meter for data analysis advice and C. Price for her comments on the manuscript. We also thank our subjects for their participation.

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Correspondence to Guinevere F Eden.

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Turkeltaub, P., Gareau, L., Flowers, D. et al. Development of neural mechanisms for reading. Nat Neurosci 6, 767–773 (2003).

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