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“A new study from MIT reveals that a brain region dedicated to reading has connections for that skill even before children learn to read”. And their findings suggest that this type of brain imaging could help identify children who are at risk of developing dyslexia and other reading difficulties.

By scanning the brains of children before and after they learned to read (at ages 5 and then 8), “researchers found that they could predict the precise location where each child’s visual word form area (VWFA) would develop, based on the connections of that region to other parts of the brain.”

In studying the VWFA, MIT postdoc, Zeynep Saygin, says that this area of the brain “does not respond preferentially to letters at age 5, [and] it is likely that the region is involved in some kind of high-level object recognition before it gets taken over for word recognition as a child learns to read.”

At age 8, however, researchers “precisely defined the VWFA for each child by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain activity as the children read. They also used a technique called diffusion-weighted imaging to trace the connections between the VWFA and other parts of the brain.”

“The researchers saw no indication from fMRI scans that the VWFA was responding to words at age 5. However, the region that would become the VWFA was already different from adjacent cortex in its connectivity patterns. These patterns were so distinctive that they could be used to accurately predict the precise location where each child’s VWFA would later develop.”

As Saygin Says, ““it’s really powerful to be able to predict functional development three years ahead of time… This could be a way to use neuroimaging to try to actually help individuals even before any problems occur.”

We eagerly await the results of their next study…

You can read the full article on MIT News here.

– Maddie