Reading the brain

New Orleans, Nov. 8, 2003 -- Children, adolescents and adults use their brains differently during a simple reading task, according to research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the team identified 17 brain regions that distinguish the three age groups.

The results will be presented at 1:30 p.m. CT Nov. 8 at the Society for Neuroscience 33rd Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

"This study directly compares simple word reading across the age range from school children to adulthood," says principal investigator Bradley L. Schlaggar, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology, of radiology, of anatomy and neurobiology and of pediatrics. "By helping us understand how healthy individuals develop language abilities, these data may ultimately be useful in improving early diagnosis of language disorders and in developing effective interventions."

Developed in the last decade, fMRI allows scientists to take pictures of blood flow in the brain to see which regions are involved in different tasks.

In the past, experts believed it was difficult, if not impossible, to compare brain activation between children and adults. But in a 2002 study published in the journal Science, Schlaggar's team presented new approaches for comparing fMRI results in children and adults and evidence that those approaches may offer valid, useful insights.

For example, the team used tasks that involve responding out loud, allowing them to only use brain images taken during correct responses made in about the same amount of time for all participants. By focusing only on responses matched for accuracy and speed, the researchers argue that their comparisons reveal maturational differences and similarities in brain activity as opposed to differences in individual skill levels.

Because talking forces the head to move, which in turn may compromise the clarity of brain images, the group

Contact: Gila Reckess
Washington University School of Medicine

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