Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Spectroscopic Imaging of the Brain: Application of Fmri and Fmrs to Reading Disabilities and Education

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Todd L. Richards
Department of Radiology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Address Correspondence to:

Todd L. Richards, PhD
Department of Radiology, Box 357115
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195
Phone: 206-598-6725
Fax: 206-543-3495

Acknowledgement: Grant No. P 50 33812 from the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) supported preparation of this article.

This tutorial/review covers functional brain imaging methods and results used to study language and reading disabilities. Although the main focus of this paper is on functional MRI and functional MR spectroscopy, other imaging techniques are discussed briefly such as positron emission tomography (PET), electroencephalography (EEG) , magnetoencepholography (MEG), and MR diffusion imaging. These functional brain imaging studies have demonstrated that dyslexia is a brain-based disorder and that serial imaging studies can be used to study the effect of treatment on functional brain activity.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Spectroscopy of the Brain: Application of fMRI and fMRS to Reading Disabilities and Education Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and functional magnetic resonance spectroscopy (fMRS) have been used to study adults and children with developmental reading disabilities. These individuals struggled or struggle in learning to read despite normal intelligence and sensory abilities. In contrast, individuals with acquired dyslexia had normal reading function but lost it due to disease or injury. The purposes of this article are to a) provide a brief tutorial on fMRI and fMRS, and b) provide an overview of the most recent findings in the use of these neuroimaging tools to study learning disabilities specific to reading (dyslexia). This information should allow professionals in the fields of education and psychology to be more critical consumers of the growing body of research on functional brain imaging of dyslexia. Recent data from functional neuroimaging of the brain in children with dyslexia has demonstrated that there is a biological basis for developmental dyslexia. However, even though dyslexia is a brain-based disorder, it is treatable, as will be discussed. Tutorial on Functional MR Imaging and Spectroscopy

Functional MRI (fMRI) and functional MR spectroscopy (fMRS) are techniques that measure different physiological parameters of neural activation (See Table 1). These functional brain imaging techniques are very labor intensive for both acquisition and processing the data and require a multidisciplinary team of scientists such as psychologists, MRI physicist/engineers, neuroscientists, neuroradiologists, and computer scientists. These brain imaging techniques are referred to as functional (rather than structural) because participants perform tasks while they are in the magnet; as a result, analyses of the imaging permit conclusions about activation of the functioning brain rather than neuroanatomy of the resting brain. These techniques are often referred to as in vivo because they can be administered to living people. Both of these techniques are noninvasive and are based on magnetic resonance imaging, which is briefly described here. Noninvasive means in part that the subject is not exposed to ionizing radiation. In contrast, the PET technique, which is also included in Table 1, is invasive and cannot be used to study healthy children. MRI is a way to look inside the body (brain in this case) without using X-rays. The body contains hydrogen nuclei (protons) that can absorb and give off energy in the presence of a magnetic field. MRI scanners use a magnet, which creates a strong, steady magnetic field. This magnetic field is very homogeneous near the center of the magnet where the head is positioned for a brain scan. This field causes the protons to line up together and spin at a specific frequency, which is...
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