Behavioral training improves connectivity and function in the brain

December 09, 2009

Children with poor reading skills who underwent an intensive, six-month training program to improve their reading ability showed increased connectivity in a particular brain region, in addition to making significant gains in reading, according to a study funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The study was published in the Dec. 10, 2009, issue of Neuron.

"We have known that behavioral training can enhance brain function." said NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. "The exciting breakthrough here is detecting changes in brain connectivity with behavioral treatment. This finding with reading deficits suggests an exciting new approach to be tested in the treatment of mental disorders, which increasingly appear to be due to problems in specific brain circuits."

For the study, Timothy Keller, Ph.D., and Marcel Just, Ph.D., both of Carnegie Mellon University, randomly assigned 35 poor readers ages 8󈝸, to an intensive, remedial reading program, and 12 to a control group that received normal classroom instruction. For comparison, the researchers also included 25 children of similar age who were rated as average or above-average readers by their teachers. The average readers also received only normal classroom instruction.

Four remedial reading programs were offered, but few differences in reading improvements were seen among them. As such, results for participants in these programs were evaluated as a group. All of the programs were given over a six month schooling period, for five days a week in 50-minute sessions (100 hours total), with three students per teacher. The focus of these programs was improving readers' ability to decode unfamiliar words.

Using a technology called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), the researchers were able to measure structural properties of the children's white matter, the insulation-clad fibers that provide efficient communication in the central nervous system. Specifically, DTI shows the movement of water molecules through white matter, reflecting the quality of white matter connections. The better the connection, the more the water molecules move in the same direction, providing a higher "bandwidth" for information transfer between brain regions.

At the outset of the study, poor readers showed lower quality white matter than average readers in a brain region called the anterior left centrum semiovale. Six months later, at the completion of the intensive training, the poor readers showed significant increases in the quality of this region. Children who did not receive the training did not show this increase, suggesting that the changes seen in the remedial training group were not due to natural maturation of the brain.

In an effort to further pinpoint the mechanism underlying this change, the researchers deduced that a process called myelination may be key. Myelin is akin to electrical insulation, allowing for more rapid and efficient communication between nerve cells in the brain. However, the directional association between brain changes and reading improvements remains unclear --whether intensive training brings about increased myelination that results in improved word decoding skills, or whether improved word decoding skills leads to changes in reading habits that result in greater myelination.

"Our findings support not only the positive effects of remediation and rehabilitation for reading disabilities, but may also lead to improved treatments for a range of developmental conditions related to brain connectivity, such as autism," noted Just.
-end-
The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit the www.nimh.nih.gov.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) -- The Nation's Medical Research Agency -- includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit the www.nih.gov.

NIH/National Institute of Mental Health

Related Mental Health Articles from Brightsurf:

Mental health strained by disaster
A new study found that suicide rates increase during all types of disasters -- including severe storms, floods, hurricanes and ice storms -- with the largest overall increase occurring two years after a disaster.

The mental health impact of pandemics for front line health care staff
New research shows the impact that pandemics have on the mental health of front-line health care staff.

World Mental Health Day -- CACTUS releases report of largest researcher mental health survey
On the occasion of 'World Mental Health Day' 2020, CACTUS, a global scientific communications company, has released a global survey on mental health, wellbeing and fulfilment in academia.

Mental illness, mental health care use among police officers
A survey study of Texas police officers examines how common mental illness and mental health care use are in a large urban department.

COVID-19 outbreak and mental health
The use of online platforms to guide effective consumption of information, facilitate social support and continue mental health care delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic is discussed in this Viewpoint.

COVID-19 may have consequences for mental health
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be adversely affecting mental health among hospitalised patients, the healthcare professionals treating them and the general population.

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.

Mental ill health 'substantial health concern' among police, finds international study
Mental health issues among police officers are a 'substantial health concern,' with around 1 in 4 potentially drinking at hazardous levels and around 1 in 7 meeting the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder and depression, finds a pooled data analysis of the available international evidence, published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Examining health insurance nondiscrimination policies with mental health among gender minority individuals
A large private health insurance database was used to examine the association between between health insurance nondiscrimination policies and mental health outcomes for gender minority individuals.

Mental health care for adolescents
Researchers examined changes over time in the kinds of mental health problems for which adolescents in the United States received care and where they got that care in this survey study with findings that should be interpreted within the context of several limitations including self-reported information.

Read More: Mental Health News and Mental Health 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.