Functional neural bases of numerosity judgments in healthy adults born preterm

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High rates of mathematics learning disabilities among individuals born preterm (<37 weeks GA) have spurred calls for a greater understanding of the nature of these weaknesses and their neural underpinnings. Groups of healthy, high functioning young adults born preterm and full term (n = 20) completed a symbolic and non-symbolic magnitude comparison task while undergoing functional MRI scanning. Collectively, participants showed activation in superior and inferior frontal and parietal regions previously linked to numeric processing when comparing non-symbolic magnitude arrays separated by small numeric distances. Simultaneous deactivation of the default mode network also was evident during these trials. Individuals born preterm showed increased signal change relative to their full term peers in right inferior frontal and parietal regions when comparing the non-symbolic magnitude arrays. Elevated signal change during non-symbolic task blocks was associated with poorer performance on a calculation task administered outside of the scanner. These findings indicate that healthy, high-functioning adults born preterm may recruit fronto-parietal networks more extensively when processing non-symbolic magnitudes, suggesting that approximate number system training may be an inroad for early intervention to prevent mathematics difficulties in this population.

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