Structural brain alterations associated with dyslexia predate reading onset

Nora Maria Raschle, Maria Chang, Nadine Gaab
NeuroImage 2011 August 1, 57 (3): 742-9
Functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have reported reduced activation in parietotemporal and occipitotemporal areas in adults and children with developmental dyslexia compared to controls during reading and reading related tasks. These patterns of regionally reduced activation have been linked to behavioral impairments of reading-related processes (e.g., phonological skills and rapid automatized naming). The observed functional and behavioral differences in individuals with developmental dyslexia have been complemented by reports of reduced gray matter in left parietotemporal, occipitotemporal areas, fusiform and lingual gyrus and the cerebellum. An important question for education is whether these neural differences are present before reading is taught. Developmental dyslexia can only be diagnosed after formal reading education starts. However, here we investigate whether the previously detected gray matter alterations in adults and children with developmental dyslexia can already be observed in a small group of pre-reading children with a family-history of developmental dyslexia compared to age and IQ-matched children without a family-history (N = 20/mean age: 5:9 years; age range 5:1-6:5 years). Voxel-based morphometry revealed significantly reduced gray matter volume indices for pre-reading children with, compared to children without, a family-history of developmental dyslexia in left occipitotemporal, bilateral parietotemporal regions, left fusiform gyrus and right lingual gyrus. Gray matter volume indices in left hemispheric occipitotemporal and parietotemporal regions of interest also correlated positively with rapid automatized naming. No differences between the two groups were observed in frontal and cerebellar regions. This discovery in a small group of children suggests that previously described functional and structural alterations in developmental dyslexia may not be due to experience-dependent brain changes but may be present at birth or develop in early childhood prior to reading onset. Further studies using larger sample sizes and longitudinal analyses are needed in order to determine whether the identified structural alterations may be utilized as structural markers for the early identification of children at risk, which may prevent the negative clinical, social and psychological outcome of developmental dyslexia.

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