Structural brain dynamics across reading development: A longitudinal MRI study from kindergarten to grade 5

Hum Brain Mapp. 2021 Oct 1;42(14):4497-4509. doi: 10.1002/hbm.25560. Epub 2021 Jul 1.


Primary education is the incubator for learning academic skills that help children to become a literate, communicative, and independent person. Over this learning period, nonlinear and regional changes in the brain occur, but how these changes relate to academic performance, such as reading ability, is still unclear. In the current study, we analyzed longitudinal T1 MRI data of 41 children in order to investigate typical cortical development during the early reading stage (end of kindergarten-end of grade 2) and advanced reading stage (end of grade 2-middle of grade 5), and to detect putative deviant trajectories in children with dyslexia. The structural brain change was quantified with a reliable measure that directly calculates the local morphological differences between brain images of two time points, while considering the global head growth. When applying this measure to investigate typical cortical development, we observed that left temporal and temporoparietal regions belonging to the reading network exhibited an increase during the early reading stage and stabilized during the advanced reading stage. This suggests that the natural plasticity window for reading is within the first years of primary school, hence earlier than the typical period for reading intervention. Concerning neurotrajectories in children with dyslexia compared to typical readers, we observed no differences in gray matter development of the left reading network, but we found different neurotrajectories in right IFG opercularis (during the early reading stage) and in right isthmus cingulate (during the advanced reading stage), which could reflect compensatory neural mechanisms.

Keywords: MRI; brain; childhood; cortical development; dyslexia; longitudinal; primary school; reading.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Cortex* / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebral Cortex* / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex* / growth & development
  • Child
  • Child Development* / physiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dyslexia* / diagnostic imaging
  • Dyslexia* / pathology
  • Dyslexia* / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nerve Net* / anatomy & histology
  • Nerve Net* / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net* / growth & development
  • Neuroimaging*
  • Reading*