Examination of common and unique brain regions for atypical reading and math: a meta-analysis

Cereb Cortex. 2023 May 24;33(11):6959-6989. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhad013.


The purpose of this study is to identify consistencies across functional neuroimaging studies regarding common and unique brain regions/networks for individuals with reading difficulties (RD) and math difficulties (MD) compared to typically developing (TD) individuals. A systematic search of the literature, utilizing multiple databases, yielded 116 functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography studies that met the criteria. Coordinates that directly compared TD with either RD or MD were entered into GingerALE (Brainmap.org). An activation likelihood estimate (ALE) meta-analysis was conducted to examine common and unique brain regions for RD and MD. Overall, more studies examined RD (n = 96) than MD (n = 20). Across studies, overactivation for reading and math occurred in the right insula and inferior frontal gyrus for atypically developing (AD) > TD comparisons, albeit in slightly different areas of these regions; however, inherent threshold variability across imaging studies could diminish overlying regions. For TD > AD comparisons, there were no similar or overlapping brain regions. Results indicate there were domain-specific differences for RD and MD; however, there were some similarities in the ancillary recruitment of executive functioning skills. Theoretical and practical implications for researchers and educators are discussed.

Keywords: dyscalculia; dyslexia; fMRI; math disabilities; meta-analysis; reading disabilities.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Cognition
  • Dyslexia* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Reading*