White matter pathways mediate parental effects on children’s reading precursors

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HighlightsParental reading relates to offspring’s white matter (WM) and phonological skills.Fathers’ reading and SES influence children’s early reading via ventral WM.Mothers display no mediating role via WM.SES relates to children’s early reading via WM and to mothers’ reading.Parent-offspring associations might be partly genetically driven.Previous studies have shown that the link between parental and offspring’s reading is mediated by the cognitive system of the offspring, yet information about the mediating role of the neurobiological system is missing. This family study includes cognitive and diffusion MRI (dMRI) data collected in 71 pre-readers as well as parental reading and environmental data. Using sequential path analyses, which take into account the interrelationships between the different components, we observed mediating effects of the neurobiological system. More specifically, fathers’ reading skills predicted reading of the child by operating through a child’s left ventral white matter pathway. For mothers no clear mediating role of the neural system was observed. Given that our study involves children who have not yet learned to read and that environmental measures were taken into account, the paternal effect on a child’s white matter pathway is unlikely to be only driven by environmental factors. Future intergenerational studies focusing on the genetic, neurobiological and cognitive level of parents and offspring will provide more insight in the relative contribution of parental environment and genes.

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