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Abstract Approximately 7% of children have developmental language disorder (DLD), a neurodevelopmental condition associated with persistent language learning difficulties without a known cause. Our understanding of the neurobiological basis of DLD is limited. Here, we used FreeSurfer to investigate cortical surface area and thickness in a large cohort of 156 children and adolescents aged 10–16 years with a range of language abilities, including 54 with DLD, 28 with a history of speech-language difficulties who did not meet criteria for DLD, and 74 age-matched controls with typical language development (TD). We also examined cortical asymmetries in DLD using an automated surface-based technique. Relative to the TD group, those with DLD showed smaller surface area bilaterally in the inferior frontal gyrus extending to the anterior insula, in the posterior temporal and ventral occipito-temporal cortex, and in portions of the anterior cingulate and superior frontal cortex. Analysis of the whole cohort using a language proficiency factor revealed that language ability correlated positively with surface area in similar regions. There were no differences in cortical thickness, nor in asymmetry of these cortical metrics between TD and DLD. This study highlights the importance of distinguishing between surface area and cortical thickness in investigating the brain basis of neurodevelopmental disorders and suggests the development of cortical surface area to be of importance to DLD. Future longitudinal studies are required to understand the developmental trajectory of these cortical differences in DLD and how they relate to language maturation.

Original publication




Journal article


Neurobiology of Language


MIT Press

Publication Date



1 - 27