Glutamate and choline levels predict individual differences in reading ability in emergent readers

Kenneth R. Pugh, Stephen J. Frost, Douglas L. Rothman, Fumiko Hoeft, Stephanie N. Del Tufo, Graeme F. Mason, Peter J. Molfese, W. Einar Mencl, Elena L. Grigorenko, Nicole Landi, Jonathan L. Preston, Leslie Jacobsen, Mark S. Seidenberg, Robert K. Fulbright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Reading disability is a brain-based difficulty in acquiring fluent reading skills that affects significant numbers of children. Although neuroanatomical and neurofunctional networks involved in typical and atypical reading are increasingly well characterized, the underlying neurochemical bases of individual differences in reading development are virtually unknown. The current study is the first to examine neurochemistry in children during the critical period in which the neurocircuits that support skilled reading are still developing. In a longitudinal pediatric sample of emergent readers whose reading indicators range on a continuum from impaired to superior, we examined the relationship between individual differences in reading and reading-related skills and concentrations of neurometabolites measured using magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Both continuous and group analyses revealed that choline and glutamate concentrations were negatively correlated with reading and related linguistic measures in phonology and vocabulary (such that higher concentrations were associated with poorer performance). Correlations with behavioral scores obtained 24 months later reveal stability for the relationship between glutamate and reading performance. Implications for neurodevelopmental models of reading and reading disability are discussed, including possible links of choline and glutamate to white matter anomalies and hyperexcitability. These findings point to new directions for research on gene-brain-behavior pathways in human studies of reading disability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4082-4089
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Decoding
  • Individual differences
  • MRS
  • Phonological processing
  • Reading
  • Reading disability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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