In this article Brain Basis of Phonological Awareness for Spoken Language in Children and Its Disruption in Dyslexia published in Cerebral Cortex (2011), researchers, led by Dr. John Gabrieli from MIT, along with our colleague at the University of Michigan Dr. Ioulia Kovelman, our friend Dr. Maryanne Wolf from Tufts University, and others from Harvard and the Children’s Hospital of Boston, evaluated the brain function of typical and dyslexic readers when engaged in phonological awareness tasks.

Differing from previous studies that used both auditory and visual stimuli, either pictures or text, this study relied solely on the auditory mode.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), age and IQ-matched (ages 1-12) and phonological awareness-matched (Kindergarten) typical readers were compared with the dyslexic children (ages 7-13) on an auditory task of rhyming. Rhyming, a task of phonological analysis, has been demonstrated to be an effective predictor of reading success in young children.

The findings showed a difference in brain activity between the age-matched typical readers and the dyslexic children on the rhyming task. Specifically, the typical readers had increased activation in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), whereas the dyslexia children did not demonstrate activation in this area.

Also, the Kindergarten group showed activation in the same region and of the same magnitude as the older typical readers suggesting the DLPFC plays an important role in phonological analysis and reading success.

Noting outcomes of other brain function studies that demonstrate the dyslexic brain operates differently than the typical reader in language-related and auditory tasks, verbal working memory, and the integration of print and auditory tasks, Dr. Kovelman and colleagues stress that it is likely that more than one brain area contributes to phonological awareness for speech sounds.

Download a PDF of the article and brain images below.

Brain Basis of Phonological Awareness for Spoken Language in Children and Its Disruption in Dyslexia838.64 KB
Brain Images87.12 KB
Chart39.02 KB