A distinctive neural signature found in the brains of people with dyslexia may explain why these individuals have difficulty learning to read, according to a new study from MIT neuroscientists. The researchers discovered that in people with dyslexia, the brain has a diminished ability to acclimate to a repeated input — a trait known as neural adaptation. For example, when dyslexic students see the same word repeatedly, brain regions involved in reading do not show the same adaptation seen in typical readers. This suggests that the brain’s plasticity, which underpins its ability to learn new things, is reduced, says John Gabrieli, Ph.D., the Grover M. Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology, a Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. “It’s a difference in the brain that’s not about reading per se, but it’s a difference in perceptual learning that’s pretty broad,” says Dr. Gabrieli, who is the study’s senior author. “This is a path by which a brain difference could influence learning to read, which involves so many demands on plasticity.” Former MIT graduate student Tyler Perrachione, Ph.D., who is now an Assistant Professor at Boston University, is the lead author of the study, which was pubished in the December 21, 2016 issue of Neuron. The open-access article is titled “Dysfunction of Rapid Neural Adaptation in Dyslexia” The MIT team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of young adults with and without reading difficulties as they performed a variety of tasks. In the first experiment, the subjects listened to a series of words read by either four different speakers or a single speaker.
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