Assessing Connections in the Brain’s Reading Network
Published in Brain/Neurology.
Summary: Neuroimaging reveals surprisingly few links between white matter structure and reading ability in children.
When we read, information zips between language processing centers in different parts of the brain, traveling along neural highways in the white matter. This coordinated activity allows us to decipher words and comprehend their meaning.
Many neuroscientists suspect that variations in white matter may underlie differences in reading ability, and hope that by determining which white matter tracts are involved, they will be able to guide the development of more effective interventions for children who struggle with reading skills.
In a Jan. 14 online publication in the journal NeuroImage, scientists at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research report on the largest brain imaging study to date to evaluate the relationship between white matter structure and reading ability. Their findings suggest that if white matter deficiencies are a significant cause of reading disability, new strategies will be needed to pin them down.
White matter is composed of bundles of insulated nerve fibers. It can be thought of as the internet of the brain, says senior author John Gabrieli, the Grover Hermann Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at MIT. “It’s the connectivity: the way that the brain communicates at some distance to orchestrate higher-level thoughts, and abilities like reading,” explains Gabrieli, who is also a professor of brain and cognitive sciences and an investigator at the McGovern Institute.