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Keywords:

  • brain;
  • cerebral cortex;
  • magnetic resonance imaging;
  • semantics;
  • language;
  • cognition;
  • child;
  • adolescent

Abstract

Patient lesion and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have provided convincing evidence that a distributed brain network subserves word knowledge. However, little is known about the structural correlates of this network within the context of typical development and whether anatomical coupling in linguistically relevant regions of cortex varies as a function of vocabulary skill. Here we investigate the association between vocabulary and anatomical coupling in 235 typically developing youth (ages 6–19 years) using structural MRI. The study's primary aim was to evaluate whether higher vocabulary performance was associated with greater vertex-level cortical thickness covariation in distributed regions of cortex known to be associated with word knowledge. Results indicate that better vocabulary skills are associated with greater anatomical coupling in several linguistically relevant regions of cortex, including the left inferior parietal (temporal-parietal junction), inferior temporal, middle frontal, and superior frontal gyri and the right inferior frontal and precentral gyri. Furthermore, in high vocabulary scorers, stronger coupling is found among these regions. Thus, complementing patient and fMRI studies, this is the first investigation to highlight the relevance of anatomical covariance within the cortex to vocabulary skills in typically developing youth, further elucidating the distributed nature of neural systems subserving word knowledge. Hum Brain Mapp 35:1885–1895, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.