Objective: Language skills continue to develop rapidly in children during the school-age years, and the "snapshot" view of the neural substrates of language provided by current neuroimaging studies cannot capture the dynamic changes associated with brain development. The aim of this study was to conduct a 5-year longitudinal investigation of language development using functional magnetic resonance imaging in healthy children.
Methods: Thirty subjects enrolled at ages 5, 6, or 7 were examined annually for 5 years using a 3-Tesla magnetic resonance imaging scanner and a verb generation task. Data analysis was conducted based on a general linear model that was modified to investigate developmental changes whereas minimizing the potential for missing data.
Results: With increasing age, there is progressive participation in language processing by the inferior/middle frontal, middle temporal, and angular gyri of the left hemisphere and the lingual and inferior temporal gyri of the right hemisphere and regression of participation of the left posterior insula/extrastriate cortex, left superior frontal and right anterior cingulate gyri, and left thalamus.
Conclusion: The age-related changes observed in this study provide evidence of increased neuroplasticity of language in this age group and may have implications for further investigations of normal and aberrant language development.