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Hum Brain Mapp. 2018 May;39(5):2047-2063. doi: 10.1002/hbm.23985. Epub 2018 Jan 29.

Emergence of the neural network underlying phonological processing from the prereading to the emergent reading stage: A longitudinal study.

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Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience, Division of Developmental Medicine, Department of Medicine, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.
Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts.
Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Basel, Psychiatric University Hospital, Basel, Switzerland.
Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Numerous studies have shown that phonological skills are critical for successful reading acquisition. However, how the brain network supporting phonological processing evolves and how it supports the initial course of learning to read is largely unknown. Here, for the first time, we characterized the emergence of the phonological network in 28 children over three stages (prereading, beginning reading, and emergent reading) longitudinally. Across these three time points, decreases in neural activation in the left inferior parietal cortex (LIPC) were observed during an audiovisual phonological processing task, suggesting a specialization process in response to reading instruction/experience. Furthermore, using the LIPC as the seed, a functional network consisting of the left inferior frontal, left posterior occipitotemporal, and right angular gyri was identified. The connection strength in this network co-developed with the growth of phonological skills. Moreover, children with above-average gains in phonological processing showed a significant developmental increase in connection strength in this network longitudinally, while children with below-average gains in phonological processing exhibited the opposite trajectory. Finally, the connection strength between the LIPC and the left posterior occipitotemporal cortex at the prereading level significantly predicted reading performance at the emergent reading stage. Our findings highlight the importance of the early emerging phonological network for reading development, providing direct evidence for the Interactive Specialization Theory and neurodevelopmental models of reading.


development; functional connectivity; neuroimaging; phonological processing; reading

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