Brains Of Bad Readers May Work Differently, Wake Forest Study Shows

October 27, 1997

WINSTON-SALEM -- The brains of some people who read poorly -- especially people with dyslexia -- differ physiologically from normal readers, according to pioneering work at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

Researchers tracking brain activity using a relatively new and sophisticated tool called Positron Emission Tomography (PET) found that differences in brain activity were greatest in a specific part of the brain called the thalamus.

The thalamus is less active in poor readers, said John R. Absher, M.D., assistant professor of neurology, who used both the PET measurements of brain metabolism and more traditional electrical measurements of brain activity to reach that conclusion. He reported his findings today at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in New Orleans.

Absher said the research "clearly related the thalamus to at least two stages of reading" and pointed to real physiological differences between good and poor readers.

"Our data are interesting because the thalamus is thought to be involved with the process of brain development," Absher said. "Genetic abnormalities affecting the thalamus have recently been identified in poor readers. Thalamic abnormalities may influence the development of many areas of the brain, including other brain areas (such as the temporal lobe) likely to be abnormal in poor readers."

In the study, Absher and his colleagues compared 20 poor readers with 20 normal readers to examine differences in both the electrical and metabolic activity of the brain.

The poor readers all had impairments in generating the correct sounds for written words and nonsense words.

The electrical activity and letter identification accuracy were measured while lower-case letters and non-letter shapes were randomly flashed on a computer screen for 30 minutes. "Differences in electrical activity and metabolism were related to specific parts of the brain and to specific stages of reading as a way to understand poor reading," Absher said.

The electrical activity was measured at 16 places on the scalp. The results pinpointed that the thalamus was less active on both sides of the brain.

Absher said the results agree with recent genetic research linking the thalamus with a form of poor reading known as developmental dyslexia. Microscopic studies also have shown abnormal thalamic structure in patients with developmental dyslexia.

Absher said the study could have important clinical implications by:


Promoting efforts to develop pre-clinical diagnosis of dyslexia using brain imaging. "Since the brain is better at reorganizing its structure early in life, it may be possible to enhance the effectiveness of reading programs by identifying potentially poor readers early in life, even before they begin to read."

Leading to an understanding of the genetics of reading.

Detailing the specific stages of reading and how the brain accomplishes reading.

Suggesting a potential mechanism for the disorganized brain structure seen in dyslexia.


"If our idea can be confirmed, it may be possible to discover the factors that lead to such brain abnormalities as seen in dyslexics," Absher said. "Only if these factors are understood can they be targeted for therapeutic intervention."

The team included two key researchers, Frank B. Wood, Ph.D., and D. Lynn Flowers, Ph.D., from a major dyslexia research program project at the Medical Center. The research was supported in part by the General Clinical Research Center, which in turn is supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

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.