The current status of the magnocellular theory of developmental dyslexia

Neuropsychologia. 2019 Jul:130:66-77. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2018.03.022. Epub 2018 Mar 26.


Some people doubt that the concept of developmental dyslexia (DD) is useful at all because the phonological weaknesses seen in DD cannot be distinguished from those found in every person with poor reading skills, whatever their cause. Here I argue that true DD is characterised by poor temporal processing, hence impaired visual and auditory sequencing, that is caused by impaired development of transient/magnocellular (M-) systems throughout the brain. These deficits can be measured in order to distinguish the causes of the phonological weaknesses in DD from those causing similar deficits in other types of poor reading. Importantly this knowledge can be exploited to develop effective improvements in treatment. The evidence for impaired visual magnocellular function in many, if not all, people with dyslexia is now overwhelming; it is supported not only by psychophysical tests of M- function, but also by electrophysiological, eye movement, attentional, imaging, interventional and genetic findings. Analogously, auditory temporal processing is mediated by auditory transient, 'magnocellular', processing systems, and evidence is accumulating persuasively that this system is also impaired in dyslexics. I briefly introduce the idea that 'motor magnocellular systems' may also be impaired in dyslexia, then consider genetic, immunological and nutritional factors that interact to cause the impaired magnocellular phenotype. I then discuss why the dyslexic phenotype is so common by speculating about what strengths it might confer that would maintain the responsible genes in the human genome.

Keywords: Amplitude modulation; Audition; CAT301; Dyslexia; Embodied cognition; Genetics; MCHC; Magnocellular; Motion sensitivity; Omega 3; Talents; Vision.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dyslexia / pathology*
  • Dyslexia / physiopathology
  • Dyslexia / psychology
  • Humans
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Visual Pathways / pathology
  • Visual Pathways / physiopathology