Because of unique linguistic characteristics, the prevalence rate of developmental dyslexia is relatively low in the Japanese language. Paradoxically, Japanese children have serious difficulty analysing phonological processes when they have dyslexia. Neurobiological deficits in Japanese dyslexia remain unclear and need to be identified, and may lead to better understanding of the commonality and diversity in the disorder among different linguistic systems. The present study investigated brain activity that underlies deficits in phonological awareness in Japanese dyslexic children using functional magnetic resonance imaging. We developed and conducted a phonological manipulation task to extract phonological processing skills and to minimize the influence of auditory working memory on healthy adults, typically developing children, and dyslexic children. Current experiments revealed that several brain regions participated in manipulating the phonological information including left inferior and middle frontal gyrus, left superior temporal gyrus, and bilateral basal ganglia. Moreover, dyslexic children showed altered activity in two brain regions. They showed hyperactivity in the basal ganglia compared with the two other groups, which reflects inefficient phonological processing. Hypoactivity in the left superior temporal gyrus was also found, suggesting difficulty in composing and processing phonological information. The altered brain activity shares similarity with those of dyslexic children in countries speaking alphabetical languages, but disparity also occurs between these two populations. These are initial findings concerning the neurobiological impairments in dyslexic Japanese children.
Keywords: Japanese language; basal ganglia; developmental dyslexia; functional magnetic resonance imaging; phonological awareness.