2021 Innovation Fund Awardees

School Readiness and Kindergarten Adjustment in Dual Language Learners with Specific Language Impairment

Qing Zhou (UCB Psychology)

This is a short-term longitudinal study of Dual Language Learners (DLLs) with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) (aged 4.0-5.0 years, 50% girls) from two language groups: 50 from Spanish-speaking families and 50 from Chinese-speaking families. The children and families will be recruited from Head Start and state-funded preschool programs in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Greater Sacramento Area. The investigative team is currently conducting a longitudinal study following typically developing DLLs in Spanish- and Chinese-speaking homes from preschool to early elementary school grades. This provides an ideal normative sample for examining the strengths and weaknesses of DLLs with SLI compared to their typically developing DLL peers.

Testing a hypothesis of multi-layer network of orthographic neighbors via an innovative measure of orthographic knowledge

Bowen Wang (UCB GSE Student)  Mentor: Anne Cunningham (UCB GSE)

The goal of this study is to develop a novel measure that examines both receptive and productive orthographic knowledge in a more nuanced way than extant measures. This is especially important in helping us to understand how dyslexic students process multisyllabic words differently than regular readers and thus to support their progress. We will also use the data to examine the hypothesis about the multi-layer nature of words’ orthographic neighborhood. Item response theory will be used for item evaluation and calibration.

How do developmental changes in GABAergic inhibition and spine pruning sculpt noise and a capacity for abstract auditory mapping in the associative neocortex? A mouse model of learning with implications for dyslexia

Linda Wilbrecht (UCB Psychology) and Michael Stryker (UCSF Neuroscience)

The researchers view mouse ‘auditory guided Brain Machine Interface (BMI) learning’ as a potential proxy for human ‘phoneme to grapheme mapping,’ and therefore relevant for understanding the neural basis of reading and for atypical reading in dyslexia. This study tests for the first time how developmental changes in GABAergic inhibition and cortical synaptic pruning impact noise and the efficiency of the developing neocortex to perform the Brain Machine Interface (BMI) task. This basic research study examines how subtle changes in inhibition and connectivity affect noise and capacity for abstract multimodal learning. This has strong translational potential because it informs our understanding of the cellular processes that support early reading at a foundational level. This basic knowledge will better define frameworks for understanding what can go wrong in dyslexia.

Cerebellar Contributions to Temporal Processing Deficits in Developmental Dyslexia 

Post-doc Assaf Breska (UCB Psychology)  Advisor: Rich Ivry (UCB Psychology), Christa Watson (UCSF Neurology)

This study will directly examine how well individuals with developmental dyslexia can exploit temporal cues to facilitate attentional orienting. We will employ interval-based and beat-based tasks that have proven diagnostic of cerebellar-dependent and cerebellar-independent timing, respectively. These state-of-the-art behavioral methods will allow assessing the operation of a core, non-linguistic computation in developmental dyslexia, comparing two fundamentally distinct ways in which predictive behavior relies on temporal regularities. 

Auditory Verbal Short-Term Memory Deficits in Dyslexia

Post-doc Sladjana Lukic (UCSF neurology)  Advisor: Nina Dronkers (UCB Psychology)

This one-year project will provide: (1) a comparison of children with dyslexia to those without on a measure of auditory verbal short-term memory (av-STM), and (2) the behavioral and neuronal patterns that can serve as a critical source of reliable classification of av-STM deficit in dyslexia. Specifically, we will examine the effects of length (long vs. short phrases) and meaning (meaningful vs. non-meaningful phrases), and frequently used sentences on repetition performances in children with and without dyslexia. We will determine which phrases within the repetition test best discriminate children with an av-STM deficit from those with a core phonological deficit, whether error patterns of responses can tease them apart, and whether these differences will predict the reading skills of the two subtypes. Lastly, we will correlate repetition performance with MRI-derived structural (volumes or thickness) and functional metrices (rs-fMRI connectivity map) in a network of regions known to support STM. We predict that av-STM deficits contribute uniquely to reading ability in children with dyslexia and are associated with poorly developed parieto-temporal regions of the brain.

Unravelling the neurobiological basis of developmental dyslexia using ultra-high field MRI

Post-doc Giovanni Battistella (UCSF Neurology)  Advisor: Pratik Mukherjee (UCSF Radiology)

In children in the UCSF Dyslexia Center study, preliminary review of over 200 3T structural MRIs revealed a 5 times higher rate of brain abnormalities (many resembling MCDs including subcortical heterotopias and excess cortical folding) in children with developmental dyslexia compared to typically developing participants. This study speculates that the number of MCDs in children with dyslexia might be underestimated at 3T and may be even more evident on a 7T scanner. The detection of MCDs at 7T may provide a better map to correlate neurocognitive performance differences within children with dyslexia. In addition to improving the identification of MCDs, 7T imaging may also facilitate in vivo investigations into the cortical architecture and microstructural organization of specific reading networks by measuring the cortical myelination/thickness ratios across the whole brain in people with dyslexia.

A combined intracranial and neuroimaging approach to auditory processing deficits in developmental dyslexia

Post-doc Yulia Oganina, (UCSF Neurological Surgery)  Advisors: Edward Chang (UCSF Neurological Surgery); Keith Johnson (UCB Linguistics); Collaborator: Maria Luisa Gorno Tempini (UCSF Neurology and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences)​

Individuals with Developmental Dyslexia (DD) are frequently impaired in extracting regularities from sensory inputs. Processing of phonotactic and lexical regularities in the Superior Temporal Gyrus (STG) might also be impaired in a subgroup of DD, possibly particularly those with Short-term working memory (STWM) deficits. The aim of the proposed project is to map the above behavioral deficits to neuroanatomy and neurophysiology using (1) Intracranial recordings in adults across a wide range of reading abilities and (2) Behavior and neuroimaging in a cohort of children with DD. We hypothesize that the above deficits in DD are at least in part due to impaired processing in the STG, as the primary site of speech sounds processing in the human brain.

Improving reading and executive function abilities in youth through mindful attention training

Post-doc Courtney Gallen, UCSF  Advisors: Adam Gazzaley (UCSF Neurology); Mark D’Esposito (UCB Psychology); Collaborator: Maria Luisa Gorno Tempini (UCSF Neurology and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences)​

This study uses a novel mindful attention training video game developed by the Engage Lab to improve reading and attention in youth with language-based learning difficulties, such as dyslexia. Engage is a tablet-based intervention video game designed by Neuroscape to improve aspects of attention through a kid-friendly meditation platform. We hypothesize that Engage will have downstream effects on reading abilities due to synergistic effects on training attention through mindfulness via a video game platform.