White matter and literacy: a dynamic system in flux

Kavli Affiliate: Terry Jernigan, Timothy Brown

| Authors: Ethan Roy, Adam Richie-Halford, John Kruper, Manjari Narayan, David Bloom, Pierre Nedelec, Leo P. Sugrue, Andreas Rauschecker, Timothy T. Brown, Terry L. Jernigan, Bruce D. McCandliss, Ariel Rokem and Jason D. Yeatman

| Summary:

Cross-sectional studies have linked differences in white matter tissue properties to reading skills. However, past studies have reported a range of, sometimes conflicting, results. Some studies suggest that white matter properties act as individual-level traits predictive of reading skill, whereas others suggest that reading skill and white matter develop as a function of an individual’s educational experience. In the present study, we tested two hypotheses: a) that diffusion properties of the white matter reflect stable brain characteristics that relate to reading skills over development or b) that white matter is a dynamic system, linked with learning over time. To answer these questions, we examined the relationship between white matter and reading in a five-year longitudinal dataset and a series of large-scale, single-observation, cross-sectional datasets (N=14,249 total participants). We find that gains in reading skill correspond to longitudinal changes in the white matter. However, in the single-observation datasets, we find no evidence for the hypothesis that individual differences in white matter predict reading skill. These findings highlight the link between dynamic processes in the white matter and learning.

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