On 16 April Laure and Julie attended the PATOSS Annual Conference at Imperial College, London. The keynote address was by Professor Al Galaburda, from Harvard University, and was entitled ‘The Mind/Brain of a Dyslexic: From Genes to Behaviour’.
Over two decades the professor has looked at the brains of dyslexics in a multidisciplinary research program that includes genetics, cell and molecular biology, neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, neuroimaging and behaviour.
It may sound hard to understand, but he was a very clear and amusing speaker. His work with genes has started to explain what they do when they are active, rather than which ones cause the problems. This can provide:
- Molecular and cellular information to help with the development of medicines and testing
- Circuits and neural pathways affected, which can point to behaviours and behavioural therapies, especially educational approaches
It was interesting to learn that gene changes do not in themselves predict reading ability and the cortex can do most things before we learn to read, but after reading it becomes more specialised. There are also developmental anomalies and changes to the brain asymmetry as neurones migrate into the dyslexic language areas and cause greater brain symmetry.
The neurones migrate at 16-20 weeks of pregnancy, so home and school do not cause a problem. The main issues noted were that phonological and visual information can come into the brain too fast to process accurately. He mentioned ‘noisy’ neurones that cause hyper-excitability and others that affect auditory processes.
T0 quote Galaburda: ‘Taking these genetically induced risk factors and coupling them with a phonologically non -transparent language may conspire to produce dyslexia in vulnerable children’.