Development of Tract-Specific White Matter Pathways During Early Reading Development in At-Risk Children and Typical Controls

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Abstract

Developmental dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder with a strong genetic basis. Previous studies observed white matter alterations in the left posterior brain regions in adults and school-age children with dyslexia. However, no study yet has examined the development of tract-specific white matter pathways from the pre-reading to the fluent reading stage in children at familial risk for dyslexia (FHD+) versus controls (FHD-). This study examined white matter integrity at pre-reading, beginning, and fluent reading stages cross-sectionally (n = 78) and longitudinally (n = 45) using an automated fiber-tract quantification method. Our findings depict white matter alterations and atypical lateralization of the arcuate fasciculus at the pre-reading stage in FHD+ versus FHD- children. Moreover, we demonstrate faster white matter development in subsequent good versus poor readers and a positive association between white matter maturation and reading development using a longitudinal design. Additionally, the combination of white matter maturation, familial risk, and psychometric measures best predicted later reading abilities. Furthermore, within FHD+ children, subsequent good readers exhibited faster white matter development in the right superior longitudinal fasciculus compared with subsequent poor readers, suggesting a compensatory mechanism. Overall, our findings highlight the importance of white matter pathway maturation in the development of typical and atypical reading skills.

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