Age-related brain structural alterations in children with specific language impairment



Previous neuroimaging studies have suggested that children with specific language impairment (SLI) may show subtle anatomical alterations in specific brain regions. We aimed to characterize structural abnormalities in children with SLI using a voxel-wise analysis over the whole brain. Subjects covered a wide age range (5–17 years) in order to assess the dynamic nature of the disorder across childhood. Three-dimensional MRIs were collected from 36 children with SLI and from a comparable group of healthy controls. Global gray and white matter measurements were obtained for each subject, and voxel-based morphometry (VBM) was used to evaluate between-group differences in regional brain anatomy. Possible age-related changes were assessed in separate analyses of younger (below 11 years of age) and older children. SLI patients showed larger global gray and white matter volumes, particularly in the younger subgroup. Voxel-wise analyses of the whole sample showed two regions of increased gray matter volume in SLI: the right perisylvian region and the occipital petalia. Age-group analyses suggested a more extended pattern of volume increases in the younger subjects, which included entorhinal, temporopolar, caudate nucleus, motor-precentral and precuneus gray matter, and white matter of the frontal and temporal lobes. Our results suggest that in the SLI brain there are enduring anatomical alterations that exist across a wide age range, as well as a distributed pattern of abnormalities that appear to normalize with development. They also suggest that the neuroanatomical basis of SLI may be better characterized by considering the dynamic course of the disorder throughout childhood. Hum Brain Mapp 2009. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.