Neural organization of ventral white matter tracts parallels the initial steps of reading development: A DTI tractography study

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HighlightsPre-reading cognitive measures are sustained by broad ventral white matter network.The left ventral IFOF serves as a lexical reading route.The left IFOF is specialized for orthographic knowledge before reading instruction.Ventral white matter is not involved in phonological processing.Insight in the developmental trajectory of the neuroanatomical reading correlates is important to understand related cognitive processes and disorders. In adults, a dual pathway model has been suggested encompassing a dorsal phonological and a ventral orthographic white matter system. This dichotomy seems not present in pre-readers, and the specific role of ventral white matter in reading remains unclear. Therefore, the present longitudinal study investigated the relation between ventral white matter and cognitive processes underlying reading in children with a broad range of reading skills (n = 61). Ventral pathways of the reading network were manually traced using diffusion tractography: the inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus (IFOF), inferior longitudinal fasciculus (ILF) and uncinate fasciculus (UF). Pathways were examined pre-reading (5–6 years) and after two years of reading acquisition (7–8 years). Dimension reduction for the cognitive measures resulted in one component for pre-reading cognitive measures and a separate phonological and orthographic component for the early reading measures. Regression analyses revealed a relation between the pre-reading cognitive component and bilateral IFOF and left ILF. Interestingly, exclusively the left IFOF was related to the orthographic component, whereas none of the pathways was related to the phonological component. Hence, the left IFOF seems to serve as the lexical reading route, already in the earliest reading stages.

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