Remedial instruction rewires dyslexic brains, provides lasting results, study shows

August 05, 2008

A new Carnegie Mellon University brain imaging study of dyslexic students and other poor readers shows that the brain can permanently rewire itself and overcome reading deficits, if students are given 100 hours of intensive remedial instruction.

The study, published in the August issue of the journal Neuropsychologia, shows that the remedial instruction resulted in an increase in brain activity in several cortical regions associated with reading, and that neural gains became further solidified during the year following instruction.

"This study demonstrates how remedial instruction can use the plasticity of the human brain to gain an educational improvement," said neuroscientist Marcel Just, director of Carnegie Mellon's Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging (CCBI) and senior author of the study. "Focused instruction can help underperforming brain areas to increase their proficiency."

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), scientists investigated the changes in a number of cortical regions located in the parietotemporal area, which is responsible for decoding the sounds of written language and assembling them into words and phrases that make up a sentence.

CCBI research fellows Ann Meyler and Tim Keller measured brain activity patterns by examining blood flow to all of the different parts of the brain while children were reading. Those measurements showed that prior to the remediation, the parietotemporal areas were significantly less activated among the poor readers than in the control group.

The new findings showed that many of the poor readers' brain areas activated at near-normal levels immediately after remediation, with only a few areas still underactive. However, at the one year follow-up scan, the activation differences between good and poor readers had nearly vanished, suggesting that the neural gains were strengthened over time, probably just due to engagement in reading activities.

These findings that point to the parietotemporal region's role in reading contradict a common perception that dyslexia is primarily caused by difficulties in the visual perception of letters, leading to confusions between letters like "p" and "d."

Visual difficulties are only at fault in about 10 percent of dyslexia cases. The most common cause, accounting for more than 70 percent of dyslexia, is a difficulty in relating the visual form of a letter to its sound, which is not a straightforward process in the English language. The same parietotemporal areas of the brain that showed increased activity following instruction are centrally involved in this sound-based processing.

The poor readers, 25 fifth-graders from Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities, worked in groups of three for an hour a day with a teacher specialized in administering a remedial reading program. The training included both word decoding exercises in which students were asked to recognize the word in its written form and tasks in using reading comprehension strategies.

This brain imaging study was also the first in which children were tested on their understanding of sentences, not just on their recognition of single words. The sentences were relatively straightforward ones, which the children judged as being sensible or nonsense, such as "The girl closed the gate" and "The man fed the dress." The children's accurate sensibility judgments ensured that they were actually processing the meaning of the sentences, and not just recognizing the individual words.

The research's implications may reach far beyond improving literacy skills. Just noted that the brain's capacity to adapt as the result of targeted instruction has the potential to influence the remedial learning process in other subject areas, as well.

"Any kind of education is a matter of training the brain. When poor readers are learning to read, a particular brain area is not performing as well as it might, and remedial instruction helps to shape that area up," he said. "This finding shows that poor readers can be helped to develop buff brains. A similar approach should apply to other skills."

Additionally, the concrete evidence of improvement demonstrated in this study may be valuable in evaluating the effectiveness of a teaching approach or curriculum, or could even be used to shape education policy. "We are at the beginning of a new era of neuro-education," Just said.
-end-
The brain imaging research was supported by a grant from the R.K. Mellon Foundation, as well as the National Institute of Mental Health and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. In addition to Meyler and Keller, other study co-authors included Vladimir Cherkassky of the CCBI and John D.E. Gabriel of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

An electronic version of the journal article is available from the publisher Elsevier's press office, which can be reached at newsroom@elsevier.com. It can also be downloaded from the publications section of the CCBI Web site at http://www.ccbi.cmu.edu/index_main.html. For additional information on the article or the research, contact Just at 412-268-2791 or visit http://www.ccbi.cmu.edu/P4K_fmri.

Carnegie Mellon University

Related Brain Activity Articles from Brightsurf:

Inhibiting epileptic activity in the brain
A new study shows that a protein -- called DUSP4 -- was increased in healthy brain tissue directly adjacent to epileptic tissue.

What is your attitude towards a humanoid robot? Your brain activity can tell us!
Researchers at IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia in Italy found that people's bias towards robots, that is, attributing them intentionality or considering them as 'mindless things', can be correlated with distinct brain activity patterns.

Using personal frequency to control brain activity
Individual frequency can be used to specifically influence certain areas of the brain and thus the abilities processed in them - solely by electrical stimulation on the scalp, without any surgical intervention.

Rats' brain activity reveals their alcohol preference
The brain's response to alcohol varies based on individual preferences, according to new research in rats published in eNeuro.

Studies of brain activity aren't as useful as scientists thought
Hundreds of published studies over the last decade have claimed it's possible to predict an individual's patterns of thoughts and feelings by scanning their brain in an MRI machine as they perform some mental tasks.

A child's brain activity reveals their memory ability
A child's unique brain activity reveals how good their memories are, according to research recently published in JNeurosci.

How dopamine drives brain activity
Using a specialized magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) sensor that can track dopamine levels, MIT neuroscientists have discovered how dopamine released deep within the brain influences distant brain regions.

Brain activity intensity drives need for sleep
The intensity of brain activity during the day, notwithstanding how long we've been awake, appears to increase our need for sleep, according to a new UCL study in zebrafish, published in Neuron.

Do babies like yawning? Evidence from brain activity
Contagious yawning is observed in many mammals, but there is no such report in human babies.

Understanding brain activity when you name what you see
Using complex statistical methods and fast measurement techniques, researchers found how the brain network comes up with the right word and enables us to say it.

Read More: Brain Activity News and Brain Activity Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.