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Home language and literacy environment and its relationship to socioeconomic status and white matter structure in infancy

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Abstract

The home language and literacy environment (HLLE) in infancy has been associated with subsequent pre-literacy skill development and HLLE at preschool-age has been shown to correlate with white matter organization in tracts that subserve pre-reading and reading skills. Furthermore, childhood socioeconomic status (SES) has been linked with both HLLE and white matter organization. It is important to understand whether the relationships between environmental factors such as HLLE and SES and white matter organization can be detected as early as infancy, as this period is characterized by rapid brain development that may make white matter pathways particularly susceptible to these early experiences. Here, we hypothesized that HLLE (1) relates to white matter organization in pre-reading and reading-related tracts in infants, and (2) mediates a link between SES and white matter organization. To test these hypotheses, infants (mean age: 8.6 ± 2.3 months, N = 38) underwent diffusion-weighted imaging MRI during natural sleep. Image processing was performed with an infant-specific pipeline and fractional anisotropy (FA) was estimated from the arcuate fasciculus (AF) and superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF) bilaterally using the baby automated fiber quantification method. HLLE was measured with the Reading subscale of the StimQ (StimQ-Reading) and SES was measured with years of maternal education. Self-reported maternal reading ability was also quantified and applied to our statistical models as a proxy for confounding genetic effects. StimQ-Reading positively correlated with FA in left AF and to maternal education, but did not mediate the relationship between them. Taken together, these findings underscore the importance of considering HLLE from the start of life and may inform novel prevention and intervention strategies to support developing infants during a period of heightened brain plasticity.

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Data availability

Due to Institutional Review Board regulations at Boston Children’s Hospital at the time of consent, our data cannot presently be uploaded to a permanent third-party archive. However, data sharing can be initiated through a Data Usage Agreement upon request. Additionally, code used for analyzing the data may be found at https://github.com/TeddyTuresky/diffusionHLLE2021.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank all participating families for their long-term dedication to this study. We are grateful for all additional members of the research team who contributed to data collection and quality control, especially Bryce Becker, Danielle Silva, Michael Figuccio, Doroteja Rubez, and Elizabeth Escalante, and Megan Loh. We also thank Carolyn King for her feedback on the manuscript.

Funding

This work was funded by NIH–NICHD R01 HD065762, the William Hearst Fund (Harvard University), and the Harvard Catalyst/NIH (5UL1RR025758) to N.G.; the Harvard Brain Initiative Transitions Program to T.K.T; the Ruth Taylor Research Fund (Queen’s University) to J.S.; and the Sackler Scholar Program in Psychobiology to J.Z.

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Correspondence to Ted K. Turesky.

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The authors have no relevant financial or non-financial interests to disclose.

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This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of Boston Children’s Hospital (IRB-P00023182).

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Informed written consent was provided by each participating infant’s parent(s).

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Turesky, T.K., Sanfilippo, J., Zuk, J. et al. Home language and literacy environment and its relationship to socioeconomic status and white matter structure in infancy. Brain Struct Funct 227, 2633–2645 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-022-02560-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-022-02560-4

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