Dyslexia Symposium

Dyslexia Symposium

Latest Research on the Neurobiology of Dyslexia

Wednesday, August 21, 2019, 8:00 – 9:45 am, Finlandia Hall


Kenneth Pugh, PhD

President and Director of Research at Haskins Laboratories
Professor at Yale University and Yale University School of Medicine
Professor at University of Connecticut

Dr. Pugh is the President and Director of Research at Haskins Laboratories, a Yale University and University of Connecticut affiliated inter-disciplinary institute, dedicated to the investigation of the biological bases of language. He also holds academic appointments in the Department of Psychology at the University of Connecticut, in the Department of Linguistics at Yale University, and in the Department of Diagnostic Radiology at Yale University School of Medicine. He serves as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for the International Dyslexia Association, the Scientific Advisory Panel for Dyslexia International in Paris, a member of the Board of Visitors for the Learning Research.

Building the literate brain: How learning to read depends upon, and changes, brain organization for spoken language.
The development of skilled reading involves a major re-organization of language systems in the brain. We will present ongoing research from our lab on the genetic and neurobiological foundations of learning to read across writing systems, with particular focus on bi-directional dependencies between brain pathways that are critical in linking spoken and written language.  Our research suggests that print/speech convergence in language cortex accounts for individual differences in reading outcomes in high and low risk learners. New longitudinal findings from our lab using computational models to better understand critical gene-brain-behavior connections in early language and speech motor development and reading and are discussed in detail (including new findings with magnetic resonance spectroscopy and multimodal brain imaging that reveals how excitatory and inhibitory neurochemistry moderate language and reading development in high risk children). Finally, we discuss recent studies that extend this brain research into second language learning.

Franck Ramus, PhD

Senior Research Scientist at Institute of Cognitive Studies, Ecole Normale Supérieure

Franck Ramus is a CNRS senior research scientist and adjunct professor at the Department of Cognitive Studies, Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. His research bears on the development of language and social cognition in children, its disorders (developmental dyslexia, specific language impairment, autism), its cognitive and neural bases and its genetic and environmental determinants.

Cortical oscillations for speech processing in dyslexia
We will report the results of our MEG investigations of cortical oscillations in response to speech and nonspeech in dyslexic and normal reading adults. We will focus on the replication of previously published results on auditory entrainment in the delta, theta and gamma bands, and new investigations on the role of alpha band oscillations, and on the coupling between alpha and other frequency bands.

Paavo Leppanen, PhD



Fumiko Hoeft, MD PhD

Professor and Director of Brain Imaging Research Center (BIRC) at University of Connecticut

Fumiko Hoeft MD PhD is Professor of Psychological Sciences, Psychiatry and Neuroscience, and Director of the Brain Imaging Research Center (BIRC) at University of Connecticut (UConn). She also holds appointments at the UCSF Dyslexia Center and Haskins Laboratories. She is a neurophysiologist, and systems/developmental cognitive neuroscientist interested in risk and protective factors in dyslexia, as well as developing edtech tools such as APPRISE that assesses dyslexia risk. She received research training at Harvard, UCLA, Caltech and Stanford, and held faculty positions at Stanford, UCSF and UConn. Honors include awards from the International Dyslexia Association (IDA; 2014), International Mind Brain & Education Society (2018), and Society for Neuroscience (2018). She has published over 140 articles, and has delivered over 210 talks such as at TEDx and the White House. Her work has been widely covered in media such as The New York Times, CNN, and Scientific American. She Co-Chairs the Scientific Advisory Board at the IDA.

Intergenerational Neuroimaging of Literacy and Dyslexia: A New Cognitive Neuroscience Research Paradigm
Parents have large influence on offspring’s brain and cognitive development.  The Intergenerational Multiple Deficit Model (iMDM [van Bergen et al. Front Hum Neurosci 2014]; or Cumulative Risk and Protection Model, CRAP Model) affords integration of parental influences as well as others, whether genetic or environmental, and whether risk or protective factors, to explain individual differences in reading ability and liability for developing dyslexia, a specific disorder of reading.  Further, it has recently been suggested that most complex traits show intergenerational sex-specific transmission patterns, which could help uncover biological pathways of transmission.  Macrocircuits using imaging may be an ideal target for investigations of intergenerational effects, where key causes may converge in ways that lead to complex phenotypes such as reading and dyslexia.

Based on these notions, we are currently examining how parental cognitive and neuroimaging patterns are associated with offspring’s reading and related imaging patterns (e.g. Black et al. NeuroImage 2012, Hosseini et al. NeuroImage 2013, Hoeft & Hancock. Geschwind-Galaburda Hypothesis, 30 years Later 2017, Chang et al. under prep).  We first establish the feasibility of this novel approach, intergenerational neuroimaging, by confirming matrilineal transmission patterns in the cortico-limbic system that is well established in gene expression and behavioral studies of animals and humans (Yamagata et al. J Neurosci 2016).  We then interrogate network patterns related to reading, and show intergenerational transmission patterns.  We also show results indicating how paternal age may negatively predict reading outcome and the potential neural mechanism (e.g. attention, thalamic development, de novo mutation [Xia et al. under review]). We discuss preliminary findings in light of historical and latest causal theories of dyslexia (Hancock Pugh Hoeft. Trends in Cog Sci 2017).  We also introduce our new research program utilizing a natural cross-fostering design will allow us to dissociate genetic, prenatal and postnatal environmental influences, which has traditionally not been feasible in humans, but is critically important in dissecting neurobiological mechanisms underlying reading and dyslexia (Ho et al. Trends in Neuroscience. 2016).