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Brain Imaging May Predict Dyslexia Gains

MONDAY, Dec. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Brain scans of teenagers with dyslexia can identify with 90 percent accuracy which ones will improve their reading skills over time, a new study finds.

Dyslexia, a learning disability that impairs the ability to read, affects 5 to 17 percent of children in the United States. The ability to improve their reading skills varies greatly.

This research may be the first to pinpoint specific brain mechanisms that play a role in a person's ability to overcome reading problems and could lead to new ways to help dyslexics better learn to read, said the Stanford University School of Medicine team.

"This gives us hope that we can identify which children might get better over time. More study is needed before the technique is clinically useful, but this is a huge step forward," study first author Dr. Fumiko Hoeft, an imaging expert and instructor at Stanford's Center of Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research, said in a university news release.

The researchers used functional MRI and a specialized type of MRI called diffusion tensor imaging to monitor brain activity in 25 teens with dyslexia and 20 teens with normal reading skills as they did reading tasks. All the participants were about 14 years old.

The teens were assessed again 2.5 years later. Among the teens with dyslexia, greater improvements in reading skills were seen in those whose earlier brain scans showed greater activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus during a specific reading task and whose white matter connected to the right frontal region in a more organized way.

In addition, the researchers found that analyzing patterns of activation across the entire brain enabled them to very accurately predict future reading gains in the teens with dyslexia.

The reason this is exciting is that until now, there have been no known measures that predicted who will learn to compensate, said Hoeft in the news release.

The study appears online Dec. 20 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about dyslexia.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Stanford University, news release, Dec. 20, 2010

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