A functioning writing and reading brain requires a system of language-related neural components to be well connected and integrated. The long term goal of Project III is to understand neural substrates responsible for the writing/reading brain in children with learning disability. A major component of this project is to measure treatment effects on 3 specific learning disabilities in written language (SLDs-WL). Project III will identify brain activation and connectivity differences among three contrasting groups of writing and/or reading disabilities and normal reading and writing controls identified and given special instruction in Project I before and after intervention in first year they participate to assess the brain's immediate RTI and follow-up RTI. The 3 SLDs-WL differ in whether their impairment is in (a) handwriting only, (b) word- spelling and reading for real or pseudowords, (c) written composition/reading comprehension. We will measure 1) language-related brain activation and functional connectivity using functional MRI, and 2) language-related structural brain connectivity and fiber tractography using diffusion tensor imaging. Real-time eye tracking will be used to correlate eye movements with the functional MRI to track focus of attention because SLDs-WL are associated with problems in supervisory attention (executive functions). The proposed project will evaluate whether (a) instruction aimed at the language and working memory problems can fully normalize functional connectivity of brain on tasks at 3 levels of language-subword, word, and text-corresponding to the impairment in each SLD-WL (b) if so, whether the normalized connectivity remains at long term follow-up two years later when their brains are re-imaged;(c) if not, whether the structural connectivity of the white fiber tracts of arcuate fasciculus differentiate those with language comprehension problems and other SLD- WL and control groups and white fiber tracts in the superior longitudinal fasciculus differentiate those with impaired handwriting from the other SLD-WL groups structurally and in response to specialized intervention.
This research project is relevant to human health because new treatment techniques will be tested using brain imaging which could lead to better ways to treat and diagnose children with learning disabilities (dyslexia and dysgraphia).
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