Activity in the right inferior frontal gyrus region  (Source: Bruce McCandliss, Vanderbilt University)
Neuroimaging technique proves to be 90 percent accurate

Stanford University School of Medicine researchers are now able to predict which dyslexic teenagers will be able to improve their reading skills over a period of time through the use of brain imaging technology. 

Fumiko Hoeft, MD, Ph.D., lead author of the study and an instructor at Stanford's Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research, and John Gabrieli, Ph.D., former Stanford professor who is now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have used a specialized brain imaging technique to predict whether or not certain dyslexic teenagers will be able to improve their reading skills throughout their lifetime. 

Up until now, researchers were unsure as to why some children or teenagers with dyslexia, which is a brain-based learning disorder that negatively affects the way a person reads, were able to improve reading skills as they grew older while others could not. Five to 17 percent of U.S. children have dyslexia, and about one-fifth of those affected are able to improve reading skills by adulthood. While researchers do not know why some children are able to improve more than others, previous imaging studies have shown that the inferior frontal gyrus, which is part of the frontal lobe, is used more so in dyslexics than average readers. Researchers decided to further investigate brain images to see if this had anything to do with one's ability to improve reading skills.

To do this, Hoeft and Gabrieli recruited 25 dyslexic children and 20 children with average reading skills to participate in the study. The children were all around the age of 14, and were given standard reading tests. Researchers then used two types of imaging on the children while they took their standardized tests. The two types of imaging were functional magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor imaging.

After two-and-a-half years went by, the same children were reassessed and researchers compared results to see which brain images or standardized tests were able to predict how much a particular child's ability to read could improve as time went by. Results showed that standardized tests alone did not measure or accurately predict reading skill improvement. But brain scans showed that some children had "greater activation" in the right inferior frontal gyrus while performing certain tasks, and that their white matter connected to this region was better organized. These children proved to have increased reading improvement over the two-and-a-half year period. In addition, researchers were able to predict future reading improvement with 90 percent accuracy by observing patterns of activation across the entire brain. 

Using these types of imaging to predict one's ability to improve their reading skills over time can help researchers design new methods of therapy fitted appropriately for those who need it. Also, this study could help encourage the use of imaging to understand other types of disorders. 

"This gives us hope that we can identify which children might get better over time," said Hoeft. "More study is needed before the technique is clinically useful, but this is a huge step forward."

This study, which is the first to pinpoint particular brain mechanisms involved in a child/teenager's ability to improve reading skills, was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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