Carnegie Mellon University scientists Timothy Keller and Marcel Just have uncovered the first evidence that intensive instruction to improve reading skills in young children causes the brain to physically rewire itself, creating new white matter that improves communication within the brain.
As the researchers report today in the journal Neuron, brain imaging of children between the ages of 8 and 10 showed that the quality of white matter — the brain tissue that carries signals between areas of grey matter, where information is processed — improved substantially after the children received 100 hours of remedial training. After the training, imaging indicated that the capability of the white matter to transmit signals efficiently had increased, and testing showed the children could read better.
"Showing that it's possible to rewire a brain's white matter has important implications for treating reading disabilities and other developmental disorders, including autism," said Just, the D.O. Hebb Professor of Psychology and director of Carnegie Mellon's Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging (CCBI).
Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, agreed. "We have known that behavioral training can enhance brain function. 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," Insel said.
Keller and Just's study was designed to discover what physically changes in the brains of poor readers who make the transition to good reading. They scanned the brains of 72 children before and after they went through a six-month remedial instruction program. Using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a new brain imaging technique that tracks water movement in order to reveal the microscopic structure of white matter, Keller and Just found a brain change involving the white matter cabling that wires different parts of the brain together.
"Water molecules that are inside nerve fibers tend to move or diffuse parallel to the nerve fibers," explained Keller, a CCBI research scientist and author of the first developmental study of compromised white matter in autism. "To track the nerve fibers, the scanner senses areas in which many water molecules are moving along in the same direction and produces a road-map of the brain's wiring."
Previous DTI studies had shown that both children and adults with reading difficulty displayed areas of compromised white matter. This new study shows that 100 hours of intensive reading instruction improved children's reading skills and also increased the quality of the compromised white matter to normal levels. More precisely, the DTI imaging illustrated that the consistency of water diffusion had increased in this region, indicating an improvement in the integrity of the white matter tracts.
"The improved integrity essentially increases communication bandwidth between the two brain areas that the white matter connects, by a factor of 10," Just said. "This opens a new era of being able to see the brain wiring change when an effective instructional treatment is applied. It lets us see educational interventions from a new perspective."
Out of the 72 children, 47 were poor readers and 25 were reading at a normal level. The good readers and a group of 12 poor readers did not receive the remedial instruction, and their brain scans did not show any changes. "The lack of change in the control groups demonstrates that the change in the treated group cannot be attributed to naturally occurring maturation during the study," Keller said.
Keller and Just also found that the amount of change in diffusion among the treated group was directly related to the amount of increase in phonological decoding ability. The children who showed the most white matter change also showed the most improvement in reading ability, confirming the link between the brain tissue alteration and reading progress.
Additional analyses indicated that the change resulted from a decrease in the movement of water perpendicular to the main axes of the underlying white matter fibers, a finding consistent with increased myelin content in the region. Although the authors caution that further research will be necessary to uncover the precise mechanism for the change in white matter, some previous findings indicate a role for electrical activity along axons in promoting the formation of myelin around them, providing a plausible physiological basis for intensive practice and instruction increasing the efficiency of communication among brain areas.
"We're excited about these results," Just said. "The indication that behavioral intervention can improve both cognitive performance and the microstructure of white matter tracts is a breakthrough for treating and understanding development problems."
The research was funded by grants from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health.
Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
26.06.2017 | Life Sciences
26.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
26.06.2017 | Information Technology