Longitudinal changes in reading network connectivity related to skill improvement
Attempts to characterize the neural differences between individuals with and without dyslexia generally point to reduced activation in and connectivity between brain areas in a reading network composed of the inferior frontal gyrus, the ventral occipito-temporal cortex, and the dorsal temporo-parietal circuit. However, developmental work on brain activity during reading has indicated that some brain areas show developmental decreases in activation with age. Thus, reading network connectivity may also show decreases that are positively associated with increases in reading ability. However, the developmental trajectory of reading network connectivity in typically developing readers is not yet well established. In the current study, we use a longitudinal design to determine how connectivity changes over time, and how these changes relate to changes in reading skill. We find that longitudinal increases in reading ability are associated with higher initial connectivity in the dorsal stream between fusiform and inferior parietal cortex, implicated in phonological decoding, followed by decreases in connectivity in this stream over time. We further find that increases in reading ability are supported by maintenance of connectivity in the ventral stream between inferior occipital and fusiform cortex, suggesting a more mature automatic orthographic recognition strategy. Readers who show little reading improvement over time do not attain high levels of connectivity in the dorsal stream at any time point, and their ventral stream connectivity decreases over time. These results together suggest that superior reading ability is initially supported by phonological decoding, with a decreased reliance on this strategy as reading becomes more automated. Our results indicate that development of the dorsal and ventral streams are closely linked, and support the hypothesis that a decrease in the dorsal stream is important for ventral stream development.