Developmental Trajectories of White Matter Structure in Children with and without Reading Impairments

By Catherine Lebel, Alina Benischek, Bryce Geeraert, John Holahan, Sally Shaywitz, Kirran Bakhshi, and Bennett Shaywitz


Left temporal-parietal white matter structure is consistently associated with reading abilities in children. A small number of longitudinal studies show that development of this area over time is altered in children with impaired reading. However, it remains unclear how brain developmental patterns relate to specific reading skills such as fluency, which is a critical part of reading comprehension. Here, we examined white matter development trajectories in children with dysfluent reading (20 dysfluent and inaccurate readers, 36 dysfluent and accurate readers) compared to non-impaired readers (n = 14) over 18 months. We found typical age-related increases of fractional anisotropy (FA) in bilateral temporal-parietal areas in non-impaired readers, but a lack of similar changes in dysfluent readers. We also found steeper decreases of mean diffusivity (MD) in the right corona radiata and left uncinate fasciculus in dysfluent inaccurate readers compared to dysfluent accurate readers. Changes in diffusion parameters were correlated with changes in reading scores over time. These results suggest delayed white matter development in dysfluent readers, and show maturational differences between children with different types of reading impairment. Overall, these results highlight the importance of considering developmental trajectories, and demonstrate that the window of plasticity may be different for different children.

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