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Poster C51, Friday, August 17, 10:30 am – 12:15 pm, Room 2000AB

Refining diffusion MRI as a tool to link Anatomical Connectivity and Second-Language Learning Success

Kaija Sander1,2, Elise B. Barbeau1,2, Shari Baum2,3, Michael Petrides1,2,4, Denise Klein1,2;1Cognitive Neuroscience Unit, Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Montreal, 2Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music (CRBLM), Montreal, 3School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill University, Montreal, 4Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal

Learning a first language occurs easily and naturally at a young age. However, learning a second language (L2) at a later age is more difficult, and there is a large variability in L2 acquisition, with individuals learning with more or less difficulty depending on the age and environment of acquisition. Variability in L2 acquisition is also influenced by between-individual differences in language learning abilities, though little is known about the factors that lead to those differences. In previous research, we have focused on identifying individual neural biomarkers of language learning success[1]. Specifically, we focused on brain functional connectivity between specific brain regions and their relationship with different aspects of language learning using resting-state MRI. In this follow-up study, we use improved behavioural measurements and more refined measures of anatomical brain connectivity to investigate the relationship between anatomical connectivity and learning success in monolingual English speakers who took an intensive French course and were scanned before and after the training. Using anatomical T1, diffusion MRI and behavioural data, we report relationships between the behavioural measures and the brain-related measures. We focus on improved reconstruction of language tracts for identifying differences between individuals in anatomical brain connectivity. We have extracted measures from these tracts and relate them to our behavioural measures of language learning outcomes. Here we focus on the Arcuate Fasciculus, classically considered the main language tract as it connects Broca’s (left IFG) to Wernicke’s (left STG) areas, and report increased macrostructural properties of this tract after L2 learning that were associated with better L2 behavioural measures. This project has several outcomes that are relevant to our understanding of L2 acquisition. Linking intrinsic anatomical patterns and the ability to acquire an L2 informs us about neural biomarkers predicting L2 learning success or difficulty, and comparisons of pre and post training sheds light on issues related to plasticity in response to language learning and reveals how the brain changes with training. [1]Chai et al. 2016. J Neurosci 36(3)755-761

Topic Area: Language Development