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Neuropsychologia. 2011 Jul;49(9):2685-93. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.05.016. Epub 2011 May 30.

Very preterm adolescents show gender-dependent alteration of the structural brain correlates of spelling abilities.

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Department of Psychosis Studies, Institute of Psychiatry, King's Health Partners, King's College London, London, UK.


Individuals born very preterm (VPT) are at risk of neurodevelopmental damage and of adverse educational outcomes in childhood and adolescence. The present study used voxel-based morphometry to investigate the association between grey matter and white matter volume and measures of language and executive functioning in VPT born adolescents and term-born controls by gender. VPT individuals (N=218) and controls (N=127) underwent neuropsychological assessment and MRI at age 14-15 as part of a longitudinal study. Differential associations were found between spelling scores and frontal regional grey matter volume when group (VPT and control) and gender (males and females) were investigated. A main effect of group demonstrated a weaker association in VPT adolescents relative to controls between grey matter volume in the left medial and right superior frontal gyri and spelling scores. A main effect of gender revealed spelling scores to be correlated with grey matter volume in the right superior frontal gyrus in females to a greater extent than in males. Furthermore, a significant interaction between group and gender was detected in two regions. Spelling scores showed a stronger association with grey matter volume in a cluster with local maxima in the left medial frontal cortex extending to the caudate nucleus in VPT females than in control females and a weaker association in VPT males compared to control males. In addition, spelling scores showed a stronger association with grey matter volume in left middle frontal gyrus in VPT males compared to control males and a weaker association in VPT females than in control females. When group and gender were investigated, there were no statistically different correlations between structural brain volumes and performance on reading and executive function tests. These data demonstrate that the typical structure-function relationship in respect to spelling abilities appears to be altered in individuals born preterm and the processes underpinning this divergence may be subject to gender-specific influences.

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