A 10-year longitudinal fMRI study of narrative comprehension in children and adolescents
Author(s)Szaflarski, Jerzy P.
Holland, Scott K.
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AbstractComprehension of spoken narratives requires coordination of multiple language skills. As such, for normal children narrative skills develop well into the school years and, during this period, are particularly vulnerable in the face of brain injury or developmental disorder. For these reasons, we sought to determine the developmental trajectory of narrative processing using longitudinal fMRI scanning. 30 healthy children between the ages of 5 and 18 enrolled at ages 5, 6, or 7, were examined annually for up to 10 years. At each fMRI session, children were presented with a set of five, 30s–long, stories containing 9, 10, or 11 sentences designed to be understood by a 5 year old child. FMRI data analysis was conducted based on a hierarchical linear model (HLM) that was modified to investigate developmental changes while accounting for missing data and controlling for factors such as age, linguistic performance and IQ. Performance testing conducted after each scan indicated well above the chance (p < 0.002) comprehension performance. There was a linear increase with increasing age in bilateral superior temporal cortical activation (BA 21 and 22) linked to narrative processing. Conversely, age-related decreases in cortical activation were observed in bilateral occipital regions, cingulate and cuneus, possibly reflecting changes in the default mode networks. The dynamic changes observed in this longitudinal fMRI study support the increasing role of bilateral BAs 21 and 22 in narrative comprehension, involving non-domain-specific integration in order to achieve final story interpretation. The presence of a continued linear development of this area throughout childhood and teenage years with no apparent plateau, indicates that full maturation of narrative processing skills has not yet occurred and that it may be delayed to early adulthood.