Levels of key brain chemicals predict children's reading ability

March 12, 2014 by Helen Dodson, Yale University
Levels of key brain chemicals predict children’s reading ability
Credit: Shutterstock

(Medical Xpress)—Reading-impaired young children have higher levels of the metabolites glutamate and choline in their brains, and these higher levels continue to be indicative of difficulties in developing typical reading and language skills, a Yale study has found. The study appears in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Although anatomical and functional brain networks involved in reading disabilities have been well characterized, the underlying chemical bases of these differences in reading development have been poorly understood. This study is believed to be the first to examine neurochemistry in a of children during the critical period when they are considered "emergent readers"—the age at which neurocircuits that support skilled reading and speaking are still developing.

The Yale team measured levels of glutamate, choline, and other metabolites in 75 children, aged 6 to 10, whose reading abilities ranged from what is considered impaired to superior. The researchers conducted behavioral testing to characterize the children's reading, language, and general cognitive skills, and used MR spectroscopy to assess metabolite levels.

They found that children with higher glutamate and choline levels in their brains tended to have lower composite scores for reading and language. In follow-up testing two years later, the same correlation still existed for initial glutamate levels.

"Reading disabilities affect significant numbers of children," said first author Kenneth Pugh, associate professor of linguistics and president and director of research in the Haskins Laboratories at Yale. "Our findings suggest new pathways for research into the connection between genes, brain development, and behavioral outcomes in children who struggle with reading."

The researchers also note that higher and choline levels have been implicated in hyperexcitability in children, another possible factor in cognitive impairment. "Further research may show whether there is a chemical basis that contributes to learning deficits among the reading-disabled ," said senior author Robert Fulbright, also of the Haskins Laboratories, and associate professor of diagnostic radiology at Yale School of Medicine.

Explore further: In dyslexia, less brain tissue not to blame for reading difficulties

Related Stories

In dyslexia, less brain tissue not to blame for reading difficulties

January 14, 2014
In people with dyslexia, less gray matter in the brain has been linked to reading disabilities, but now new evidence suggests this is a consequence of poorer reading experiences and not the root cause of the disorder.

Researchers unravel genetics of dyslexia and language impairment

June 13, 2013
A new study of the genetic origins of dyslexia and other learning disabilities could allow for earlier diagnoses and more successful interventions, according to researchers at Yale School of Medicine. Many students now are ...

Poor motor performance linked to poor academic skills in the first school years

October 28, 2013
Children with poor motor performance at the school entry were found to have poorer reading and arithmetic skills than their better performing peers during the first three years of school. However, no relationship was found ...

Literacy depends on nurture, not nature, education professor says

November 14, 2013
A University at Buffalo education professor has sided with the environment in the timeless "nurture vs. nature" debate after his research found that a child's ability to read depends mostly on where that child is born, rather ...

Recommended for you

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

Midbrain 'start neurons' control whether we walk or run

January 17, 2018
Locomotion comprises the most fundamental movements we perform. It is a complex sequence from initiating the first step, to stopping when we reach our goal. At the same time, locomotion is executed at different speeds to ...

Miles Davis is not Mozart: The brains of jazz and classical pianists work differently

January 16, 2018
Keith Jarret, world-famous jazz pianist, once answered in an interview when asked if he would ever be interested in doing a concert where he would play both jazz and classical music: "No, that's hilarious. [...] It's like ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.