The role of the structural connectome in literacy and numeracy development in children
Literacy and numeracy are fundamental skills acquired in childhood, a time that coincides with considerable shifts in large-scale brain organisation. However, most studies emphasize focal brain contributions to literacy and numeracy development by employing case-control designs and voxel-by-voxel statistical comparisons. This approach is unlikely to capture the importance of broad differences in brain organisation that characterize brain development. The current study aims to address this by including children with varying levels of reading and maths ability, including comorbidities, and by using a whole-brain structural connectome approach based on diffusion-weighted MRI data. Our results indicate an association between literacy and numeracy development and a distributed network of white matter connections that extends well beyond regions implicated in voxel-wise studies. Further, graph theory measures of network organisation were predictive of reading and maths scores. Simulated attacks on highly-connected hubs indicated that these regions are particularly important for optimal network organisation. Together these findings show that general principles of network organisation across the brain are significantly associated with literacy and numeracy improvements over developmental time.
Lead researcher: Joe Balthelt, Career Development Fellow
Publication: The role of the structural connectome in literacy and numeracy development in children. Balthelt, J., Johnson, A., Butterfield, S., Gathercole, S.E., & Astle, D. Manuscript under review.