Thursday, December 10, 2009

Remedial reading can rewire the brain

Roughly speaking, gray matter in the brain is the set of microprocessors, and white matter is the cabling that carries information from one processor to another. Researchers had previously found that people who are poor readers often have "areas of compromised white matter."

Now they have shown that if you give poor readers 100 hours of intensive remedial reading, the white matter shows increased quality. And the ones who improved most in reading had the greatest improvement in the white matter.

They used a technique I hadn't heard of, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), which tracks water movement, which tends to be parallel to nerve fibers in the brain, so it makes something like a Google map of the brain.

Knowing that it is possible to affect white matter this way leads to suggestions of possible treatments for autism. I'm not sure if it should be a surprise or not. We know that practicing a task changes the cerebellum, so why shouldn't it affect other parts of the brain, as well?

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