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Hum Brain Mapp. 2019 Feb 15;40(3):741-754. doi: 10.1002/hbm.24407. Epub 2018 Oct 1.

The relationship between socioeconomic status and white matter microstructure in pre-reading children: A longitudinal investigation.

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Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience, Division of Developmental Medicine, Department of Medicine, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA.
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Department of Medical Social Sciences, and Institute for Innovations in Developmental Sciences, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.
College of Education and Human Sciences, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE.
Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA.
Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, UCLA.


Reading is a learned skill crucial for educational attainment. Children from families of lower socioeconomic status (SES) tend to have poorer reading performance and this gap widens across years of schooling. Reading relies on the orchestration of multiple neural systems integrated via specific white-matter pathways, but there is limited understanding about whether these pathways relate differentially to reading performance depending on SES background. Kindergarten white-matter FA and second-grade reading outcomes were investigated in an SES-diverse sample of 125 children. The three left-hemisphere white-matter tracts most associated with reading, and their right-hemisphere homologs, were examined: arcuate fasciculus (AF), superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF), and inferior longitudinal fasciculus (ILF). There was a significant and positive association between SES and fractional anisotropy (FA) in the bilateral ILF in kindergarten. SES moderated the association between kindergarten ILF and second grade reading performance, such that it was positive in lower-SES children, but not significant in higher-SES children. These results have implications for understanding the role of the environment in the development of the neural pathways that support reading.


MRI; SES; brain; education; fractional anisotropy; longitudinal; pre-readers; reading development; white matter

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