Background: Language difficulties of very preterm (VPT) children might be related to weaker cerebral hemispheric lateralization of language. Language lateralization refers to the development of an expert region for language processing in the left hemisphere during the first years of life. Children born VPT might not develop such a dominant left hemisphere for language processing. A dichotic listening task may be a functional task to show the dominance of the left hemisphere during language processing. During this task, different acoustic events are simultaneously presented to both ears. Due to crossing fibers in the brain, right ear stimuli are transferred directly to the left hemisphere, and left ear stimuli are transferred first to the right hemisphere and then, through the corpus callosum (CC), to the left hemisphere. Dichotic listening typically shows a right ear advantage, assuming to reflect left hemispherical language dominance. The CC, in particular the splenium, is associated with auditory processing and is considered important for language lateralization. The objective of this work was to explore whether dichotic listening performance in school-aged VPT children are associated with language performance and interhemispheric connectivity. Methods: This is a cross-sectional study of 58 VPT children and 30 full term controls at age 10 years. Language performance and dichotic digit test (DDT) were assessed. In 44 VPT children, additionally diffusion weighted imaging (DWI) was performed using a 3 T MRI scanner. Fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD) values of the splenium of the CC were extracted. Results: Poorer right ear DDT scores were associated with poorer language performance in VPT children only (p = 0.015). Association between right ear DDT scores and MD of the splenium approached the level of significance (p = 0.051). Conclusions: These results support the hypothesis that poor language performance in VPT children may be a consequence of weaker lateralized language organization, due to a poorly developed splenium of the CC. Dichotic listening may reflect the level of language lateralization in VPT children. Impact: Poor language performance in VPT children may be a consequence of weaker lateralized language organization, due to a poorly developed splenium of the CC.Dichotic listening performance may reflect the level of language lateralization in VPT children and right ear scores of a dichotic listening task are associated with both the splenium of the corpus callosum and language performance.If our results could be validated in future research, it suggests that poor CC development may indicate VPT children at risk for long-term language problems.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by Dr. C.J. Vaillantfonds, Stichting Mitialto, Stichting Coolsingel under Grant number 496, and Stichting Sophia Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek under Grant number S19-24.
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to the International Pediatric Research Foundation, Inc.