Mathematical abilities in dyslexic children: a diffusion tensor imaging study

Koerte IK, Willems A, Muehlmann M, Moll K, Cornell S, Pixner S, Steffinger D, Keeser D, Heinen F, Kubicki M, Shenton ME, Ertl-Wagner B, Schulte-Körne G

Brain Imaging Behav 2016 09;10(3):781-91

PMID: 26286825


Dyslexia is characterized by a deficit in language processing which mainly affects word decoding and spelling skills. In addition, children with dyslexia also show problems in mathematics. However, for the latter, the underlying structural correlates have not been investigated. Sixteen children with dyslexia (mean age 9.8 years [0.39]) and 24 typically developing children (mean age 9.9 years [0.29]) group matched for age, gender, IQ, and handedness underwent 3 T MR diffusion tensor imaging as well as cognitive testing. Tract-Based Spatial Statistics were performed to correlate behavioral data with diffusion data. Children with dyslexia performed worse than controls in standardized verbal number tasks, such as arithmetic efficiency tests (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division). In contrast, the two groups did not differ in the nonverbal number line task. Arithmetic efficiency, representing the total score of the four arithmetic tasks, multiplication, and division, correlated with diffusion measures in widespread areas of the white matter, including bilateral superior and inferior longitudinal fasciculi in children with dyslexia compared to controls. Children with dyslexia demonstrated lower performance in verbal number tasks but performed similarly to controls in a nonverbal number task. Further, an association between verbal arithmetic efficiency and diffusion measures was demonstrated in widespread areas of the white matter suggesting compensatory mechanisms in children with dyslexia compared to controls. Taken together, poor fact retrieval in children with dyslexia is likely a consequence of deficits in the language system, which not only affects literacy skills but also impacts on arithmetic skills.