Cognitive tutoring induces widespread neuroplasticity and remediates brain function in children with mathematical learning disabilities

Nat Commun. 2015 Sep 30;6:8453. doi: 10.1038/ncomms9453.


Competency with numbers is essential in today's society; yet, up to 20% of children exhibit moderate to severe mathematical learning disabilities (MLD). Behavioural intervention can be effective, but the neurobiological mechanisms underlying successful intervention are unknown. Here we demonstrate that eight weeks of 1:1 cognitive tutoring not only remediates poor performance in children with MLD, but also induces widespread changes in brain activity. Neuroplasticity manifests as normalization of aberrant functional responses in a distributed network of parietal, prefrontal and ventral temporal-occipital areas that support successful numerical problem solving, and is correlated with performance gains. Remarkably, machine learning algorithms show that brain activity patterns in children with MLD are significantly discriminable from neurotypical peers before, but not after, tutoring, suggesting that behavioural gains are not due to compensatory mechanisms. Our study identifies functional brain mechanisms underlying effective intervention in children with MLD and provides novel metrics for assessing response to intervention.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Learning Disabilities / physiopathology
  • Learning Disabilities / psychology*
  • Learning Disabilities / therapy
  • Male
  • Mathematics
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Problem Solving