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The functional differences of brain networks in different hierarchical language structures of children's natural reading

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Poster B125 in Poster Session B, Tuesday, October 24, 3:30 - 5:15 pm CEST, Espace Vieux-Port
This poster is part of the Sandbox Series.

Jie Chen1, XiuJie Yang1, GuoSheng Ding1; 1Beijing Normal University, Beijing, P. R. China

Language exhibits a distinct hierarchical structure, and proficient reading relies on the efficient recognition of words, their integration into coherent sentences, and the extraction of meaning from the text (Fedorenko et al.,2019). When children engage in reading, they construct various psychological representations that align with the hierarchical organization of language (Perfetti & Adlof, 2012). Previous research discussed that functional differences in connection patterns of overlapping regions in reading words and sentences (Aboud et al., 2019), but have not revealed the mechanistic changes in children's reading different language units from the perspective of natural reading. Consequently, it is important to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying children's reading through a fine-grained experimental design, which may uncover the development of the hierarchical characteristics of reading networks. Our study included a total of 34 typically developing children (23 males, 11.82 ± 1.13 yrs). All participants were native Mandarin speakers. We tested children’s verbal fluency and reading comprehension abilities. In the natural reading experiment, participants read the presented stories sentence by sentence. Our study combines children's natural reading with a child-friendly reading rate of approximately 18 words per screen, with an average word presentation of 200-400 milliseconds, and each block length of approximately 1 minute (Wang et al., 2015; Zhou et al., 2021). Here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain activity of children during reading pseudowords, reading shuffled words, reading shuffled sentences, and reading intact stories in the natural reading paradigm. We used conjunction and ANOVA analysis to obtain the overlapping regions across 4 condition and dominant brain regions in each contrast. Then, we used a generalized psychophysiological interaction (gPPI) analysis (McLaren et al., 2012) to examine functional connectivity for the dominant seed regions in each contrast. Firstly, we found that bilateral frontal and occipital lobes overlapping regions across four conditions, while distinct functional differences were identified in the temporal lobes. Results revealed that the left middle temporal gyrus (MTG) is specific to word level processing, while the bilateral angular gyrus and the left precuneus are specific to sentence level processing. The right temporal lobe is involved in both word level processing and sentence level processing. The activation values of the dominant regions in sentence processing were related to children's verbal fluency and reading comprehension ability. The gPPI results showed that children exhibited stronger functional connectivity between the bilateral angular gyrus with contralateral MTG during sentence reading compared to word reading. The functional connections between the left angular gyrus and the right MTG (r=0.432, p=0.025) were positively correlated with children's reading comprehension. The present study elucidated the neural mechanisms underlying children's reading of different language units within the framework of natural reading. We found that there is a transition from median to posterior in temporal lobe from word processing to sentence processing, which determines children's individual differences at a high-level reading. Additionally, the connection between the bilateral angular gyrus and the contralateral middle temporal gyrus may indicate an integration mechanism that operates across hemispheres.

Topic Areas: Reading, Language Development/Acquisition

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