Johanna Liebig, Eva Froehlich, Teresa Sylvester, Mario Braun, Hauke R. Heekeren, Johannes C. Ziegler, Arthur M. Jacobs
The main objective of this longitudinal study was to investigate the neural predictors of reading acquisition. For this purpose, we followed a sample of 54 children from the end of kindergarten to the end of second grade. Preliterate children were tested for visual symbol (checkerboards, houses, faces, written words) and auditory language processing (spoken words) using a passive functional magnetic resonance imaging paradigm. To examine brain–behavior relationships, we also tested cognitive–linguistic prereading skills at kindergarten age and reading performance of 48 of the same children 2 years later. Face-selective response in the bilateral fusiform gyrus was positively associated with rapid automatized naming (RAN). Response to both spoken and written words at preliterate age was negatively associated with RAN in the dorsal temporo-parietal language system. Longitudinally, neural response to faces in the ventral stream predicted future reading fluency. Here, stronger neural activity in inferior and middle temporal gyri at kindergarten age was associated with higher reading performance. Our results suggest that interindividual differences in the neural system of language and reading affect literacy acquisition and thus might serve as a marker for successful reading acquisition in preliterate children.