Preterm Babies & Math Impairment

Neural correlates of number processing in 6-7 year old former preterm children (2011, Source location, p. 14)

by M. O. Starke1 ; U. Kohlendorfer1 , U. Pupp1 , S. E. Vogel2 , C. Kremser1 , M. Schocke1 , L. Kaufmann1,3 1 

@ Medical University Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria; 2 University of Western Ontario, London, Canada; 3 University for Health Sciences, Medical Informatics and Technology, Hall in Tyrol, Austria. 

The prevalence of learning disabilities, as developmental dyscalculia (DD), within preterm children (without neurological complications) is very high (approximately 40%). Therefore preterm children are among a population at risk to develop DD. 

The aim of this study was to identify neural correlates of number processing in 6-7 year old former preterm children. We tested 15 former preterm children regarding their number processing and calculation skills using the TEDI-MATH test battery. The same children participated also in an fMRI paradigm with a numerical comparison task (Which number is higher? => 5 vs. 2).The numerical comparison task is an approved method to determine numerical comprehension. 

A robust effect regarding reaction time is the numerical distance effect (NDE), which is characterised by a negative correlation between numerical distance and reaction time. The NDE depends on performance and is modulated primarily by (intra)parietal brain regions. 

Our results show, that 6-7 year old former preterm children display a robust NDE. The NDE in our experimental group did not correlate with math performance. Interestingly, the strength of the fMRIsignal on the other hand seemed to be related to number processing skills. 

Lower performance in TEDI-MATH was associated with increased brain activity in number relevant (fronto-parietal) brain regions during the fMRI paradigm. The reported negative correlation between performance and brain activity supports the assumption of compensatory neuronal mechanisms. 

To our knowledge our study is the first to examine the number processing skills of former preterm children with an fMRI paradigm. The increased brain activity of mathematical low performers in number relevant brain regions suggest the recruitment of a compensatory fronto-parietal brain network.