Background: About 6.2 million adults in Germany cannot read and write properly despite attending school for several years. They are considered to be functional illiterates (FI). Since the ability to read and write is crucial for being employed and socially accepted, we developed a special literacy training to overcome these deficits.
Methods: In this study, we investigate training-related changes in intrinsic functional connectivity (iFC) at rest in a group of 20 FI and 20 adult normal readers using resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rsfMRI). We used independent component analysis (ICA) to define different networks.
Results: Before training, the between group analysis showed increased iFC in FI in a left-fronto-parietal network (LFPN; anterior insula, medial frontal cortex, lateral and frontal parietal regions) and in the Basal Ganglia network (BGN: thalamus, caudate, putamen, pallidum, amygdala, supplementary motor cortex and cingulate gyrus). Furthermore, the Visual Network-1 (VN1; temporal occipital fusiform gyrus, lateral occipital cortex, occipital pole, lingual gyrus, thalamus) showed decreased iFC in FI. After training the FI group showed reversal of the "hyperconnectivity" in middle frontal gyrus and in the frontal orbital cortex and between supramarginal gyrus and the BGN. Furthermore, functional connectivity increased in FI VN1 (lateral occipital cortex, insular cortex). These changes in connectivity correlated with gains in reading speed and spelling accuracy.
Conclusions: These findings show that poor reading and writing abilities are associated with abnormalities in iFC in several brain areas subserving cognitive processes important for reading. Intensive literacy training induces changes in the functional connectivity between and within neural networks important for literacy skills.