Neurobiological underpinnings of rapid white matter plasticity during intensive reading instruction [article]

Elizabeth Huber, Aviv Mezer, Jason Yeatman
2020 bioRxiv   pre-print
Human white matter is remarkably plastic. Yet it is challenging to infer the biological underpinnings of this plasticity using non-invasive measurements like diffusion MRI. Here we capitalize on metrics derived from diffusion kurtosis imaging (DKI) to interpret previously reported changes in mean diffusivity throughout the white matter during an 8-week, intensive reading intervention. We then use an independent quantitative MRI measurement of R1 (1/T1 relaxation time) in the same white matter
more » ... gions; since R1 closely tracks variation in myelin content, it provides complementary information about white matter microstructure. Behavioral measures, multi-shell diffusion MRI data, and quantitative T1 data were collected at regular intervals during the intervention in a group of 33 children with reading difficulties (7-12 years old), and over the same period in an age-matched non-intervention control group. Changes in DKI parameters modeled over the intervention were consistent with increased hindrance in the extra-axonal space, rather than a large-scale change in axon density and/or myelination. Supporting this interpretation, analysis of R1 values did not suggest a change in myelin, although R1 estimates were correlated with individual differences in reading skill. Together, these results suggest that large-scale changes in diffusivity observed over a short timescale during an intensive educational experience are most likely to reflect changes occurring in the extra-axonal space, in line with recent work highlighting the role of glial cells in experience-dependent plasticity and learning.
doi:10.1101/2020.05.28.122499 fatcat:qmy232lvivgirdlkqjs4kzekye