Journal of Neuroscience vol:34 issue:4 pages:1523-1529
The temporal envelope of speech is an important cue contributing to speech intelligibility. Theories about the neural foundations of speech perception postulate that the left and right auditory cortices are functionally specialized in analyzing speech envelope information at different time scales: the right hemisphere is thought to be specialized in processing syllable rate modulations, whereas a bilateral or left hemispheric specialization is assumed for phoneme rate modulations. Recently, it has been found that this functional hemispheric asymmetry is different in individuals with language-related disorders such as dyslexia. Most studies were, however, performed in adults and school-aged children, and only a little is known about how neural auditory processing at these specific rates manifests and develops in very young children before reading acquisition. Yet, studying hemispheric specialization for processing syllable and phoneme rate modulations in preliterate children may reveal early neural markers for dyslexia. In the present study, human cortical evoked potentials to syllable and phoneme rate modulations were measured in 5-year-old children at high and low hereditary risk for dyslexia. The results demonstrate a right hemispheric preference for processing syllable rate modulations and a symmetric pattern for phoneme rate modulations, regardless of hereditary risk for dyslexia. These results suggest that, while hemispheric specialization for processing syllable rate modulations seems to be mature in prereading children, hemispheric specialization for phoneme rate modulation processing may still be developing. These findings could have important implications for the development of phonological and reading skills.