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  • On June 17, NeuroImage published a research article entitled “Structural correlates of literacy difficulties in the second language: evidence from Mandarin-speaking children learning English” from Guosheng Ding’s group in State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning, IDG/McGovern Brain Research Institute.
     
    Several neuroimaging studies have explored the neural basis of literacy difficulties in the second language (L2) and found that Chinese (L1) children with reading difficulty in English (L2) showed decreased brain activity (You et al., 2011) and functional connectivity in temporo-parietal and occipito-temporal regions compared to typical developing readers (Meng et al., 2016; You et al., 2011). However, it remains unclear whether the associated neural alterations are related to literacy abilities in the first language (L1). Using magnetic resonance imaging, two experiments in Mandarin-speaking children learning English as second language were conducted to explore this issue.
     
    In the first experiment, children with literacy difficulties in L2 and L1 (poor in both, PB) and children with literacy difficulties only in L2 (poor in English, PE) were recruited and were compared with a control literacy (CL) group. The results showed that the CL group had significantly less gray matter volume in the left supramarginal gyrus compared to the PB group and moderately less gray matter volume compared to the PE group. In addition, the PB group had significant greater gray matter volume in the left medial fusiform gyrus compared to the PE group and had marginally greater gray matter volume compared to the CL group (Fig.1).
     
    Fig. 1. Atypical regions and contrast patterns. Panel A. The results of one-way ANOVA analysis and post-hoc two-sample t-tests. Panel B. A visualization for the statistics in the post-hoc analyses, using the mean residual of gray matter volume (GMV) of the three group participants in the atypical regions. According to the post-hoc analysis, in the L.FG, the PB group had increased GMV compare to the PE and CL group. Whereas in the L.SMG, the CL group had decreased GMVcompared to the PB and PE group. PB = literacy difficulties in both languages; PE = literacy difficulties in English only; CL = control literacy. L.SMG= the left supramarginal gyrus; L.FG=the left fusiform gyrus. Panel C. Bar chart shows group contrast patterns about the literacy performance. The Y-axis represents the standard score on a Chinese spelling test (CCRT). CCRT = Chinese Character Recognition Test; ES = English spelling test. * means significant group difference.
     
    In the second experiment, the researchers explored the relationship between the two atypical regions and literacy abilities in the two languages in an independent sample consisting of children with typical literacy. Voxel-by-voxel correlation analyses were firstly conducted to generate the specific literacy maps for L1 and L2 with the English and Chinese composite scores as a covariate, respectively. Interestingly, it was found that the literacy maps for L1 and L2 were adjacent in the L.SMG based on positive brain-behavior relations (Fig. 2) and were also close to each other in L.FG based on negative brain-behavior relations (Fig.2). Correlation analyses revealed that the left supramarginal gyrus was significantly associated with literacy performance only in the second language, English, whereas the left medial fusiform gyrus did not correlate with the performances in either L1 or L2 (Fig.3).
     
    Fig.2. Literacy networks specific for Chinese and English. Panel A depicts the network for the positive brain-behavior relations, whereas panel B shows the network for the negative brain-behavior relations. Blue regions represent correlations for Chinese and orange regions represent correlations for English. Yellow regions indicate the overlap between these two networks. Black and green dots refer to the L.SMG and L.FG found in the group contrast analysis from Experiment 1.
     
    Fig.3. Scatter maps between the L.SMG and the English or Chinese literacy ability. Panel A represents scatter map for the correlation between GMV in the L.SMG and the English literacy ability among typical developing children (28 participants). Y-axis represents the residual of GMV in the L.SMG; X-axis represents the residual of the English composite score. Panel B represents scatter map for the correlation between GMV in the L.SMG and the Chinese literacy ability among typical developing children (28 participants). Y-axis represents the residual of GMV in the L.SMG; X-axis represents the residual of the Chinese composite score.
     
    Taken together, these findings suggest that literacy difficulties in an alphabetic L2 are associated with a structural abnormality in the left supramarginal gyrus, a region implicated in phonological processing, which is independent of literacy abilities in the native language.
     
    This work is mainly contributed by a Ph.D student from Ding’s group, Hehui Li, cooperating with Professor James R. Booth from Vanderbilt University, Research Scientist Nathalie N. Bélanger from San Diego State University, Professor Li Liu’s group from State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning, Meng’s lab from Peking University and other students from Ding’s group. This work was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC: 31571158, 81371206, 81171016) and the National Key Basic Research Program of China (2014CB846102).
     
    Website of this work: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.06.037
    Website of Ding’s group: http://brain.bnu.edu.cn/home/dingguosheng/homepage.htm
    Corresponding authors: dinggsh@bnu.edu.cn;mengxzh@pku.edu.cn.
     
     
    Reference (*Corresponding authors)
    Li, H., Booth, J. R., Bélanger, N. N., Feng, X., Tian, M., Xie, W., Zhang, M., Gao, Y., Ang, C., Yang, X., Liu, L., Meng, X. *, & Ding, G. * (2018). Structural correlates of literacy difficulties in the second language: Evidence from Mandarin-speaking children learning English. Neuroimage.
    Liu, L., Li, H., Zhang, M., Wang, Z., Wei, N., Liu, L., Meng, X. *, & Ding, G. * (2016). Aberrant topologies and reconfiguration pattern of functional brain network in children with second language reading impairment. Developmental science, 19(4), 657-672. doi: org/10.1111/desc.12440
    Meng, X. Z., You, H. L., Song, M. X., Desroches, A. S., Wang, Z. K., Wei, N., Tian, M. Y., Gaab, N., & Ding, G. S. * (2016). Neural deficits in auditory phonological processing in Chinese children with English reading impairment. Bilingualism-Language and Cognition, 19(2), 331-346. doi: org/10.1017/S1366728915000073
    You, H., Gaab, N., Wei, N., Cheng-Lai, A., Wang, Z., Jian, J., Song, M., Meng, X. *, & Ding, G. * (2011). Neural deficits in second language reading: fMRI evidence from Chinese children with English reading impairment. Neuroimage, 57(3), 760-770. doi: org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.12.003