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MRI Predicts Reading Gains For Dyslexic Teens

December 21, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology, Pediatric Radiology
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Researchers have learned how brain imaging can predict with 90 percent accuracy which teenagers with dyslexia will improve their reading skills over time. Next step: using the new knowledge of how such children’s brains work to craft reading therapies for them.

Dyslexia, a brain-based learning disability that impairs reading ability, affects 5 to 17 percent of U.S. children. The extent of the disability and the potential for reading improvement vary widely.

For the new study, researchers selected 25 children with dyslexia and 20 with “typical” reading skills, all about age 14. As the children performed reading tasks, their brains were scanned with functional MRI (to see which brain areas were involved in the tasks) and diffusion tensor imaging (to map the white-matter connections between brain areas). The children also took standardized reading assessment tests. Two and a half years later, the subjects were tested again for reading ability. The researchers then looked back at the initial data for those children who had improved to see what might have predicted that improvement.

No behavioral measures, including standardized tests, reliably predicted reading gains. But the children in the dyslexia group whose scans showed greater activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus (part of the frontal lobe) and whose white matter connections to that right frontal region were better organized showed greater reading improvement.

Fumiko Hoeft, MD, PhD, one of the researchers, said:

The reason this is exciting is that until now, there have been no known measures that predicted who will learn to compensate.

Dr. Hoeft, an imaging expert and instructor at Stanford University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research, was quoted in a Stanford news release. She is first author of a paper about the study, published online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research shows that improvement in reading for dyslexic children involves different neural mechanisms and pathways than for children without dyslexia. Therefore, neural imaging could be helpful in developing therapeutic strategies aimed at helping children with dyslexia.

Dr. Hoeft said this research also might encourage the use of imaging in studying and possibly treating other disorders. “In general terms,” she said, “these findings suggest that brain imaging may play a valuable role in neuroprognosis—the use of brain measures to predict future reductions or exacerbations of symptoms in clinical disorders.”

Related seminar: Neuro & Musculoskeletal Imaging

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