Neurochemistry predicts convergence of written and spoken language: A proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy study of cross-modal language integration

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Abstract

Recent studies have provided evidence of associations between neurochemistry and reading (dis)ability (Pugh et al., 2014). Based on a long history of studies indicating that fluent reading entails the automatic convergence of the written and spoken forms of language and our recently proposed Neural Noise Hypothesis (Hancock et al., 2017), we hypothesized that individual differences in cross-modal integration would mediate, at least partially, the relationship between neurochemical concentrations and reading. Cross-modal integration was measured in 231 children using a two-alternative forced choice cross-modal matching task with three language conditions (letters, words, and pseudowords) and two levels of difficulty within each language condition. Neurometabolite concentrations of Choline (Cho), Glutamate (Glu), gamma-Aminobutyric (GABA), and N- acetyl-aspartate (NAA) were then measured in a subset of this sample (n = 70) with Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS). A structural equation mediation model revealed that the effect of cross-modal word matching mediated the relationship between increased Glu (which has been proposed to be an index of neural noise) and poorer reading ability. In addition, the effect of cross-modal word matching fully mediated a relationship between increased Cho and poorer reading ability. Multilevel mixed effects models confirmed that lower Cho predicted faster cross-modal matching reaction time, specifically in the hard word condition. These Cho findings are consistent with previous work in both adults and children showing a negative association between Cho and reading ability. We also found two novel neurochemical relationships. Specifically, lower GABA and higher NAA predicted faster cross-modal matching reaction times. We interpret these results within a biochemical framework in which the ability of neurochemistry to predict reading ability may at least partially be explained by cross-modal integration.

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Del Tufo, S. N., Frost, S. J., Hoeft, F., Cutting, L. E., Molfese, P. J., Mason, G. F., … Pugh, K. R. (2018). Neurochemistry predicts convergence of written and spoken language: A proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy study of cross-modal language integration. Frontiers in Psychology, 9(SEP). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01507

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