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Title: Introduction: Cortical event-related potentials and early language development: Variations with age and nutrition


Submitted to: Developmental Neuropsychology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/15/2006
Publication Date: 6/15/2007
Citation: Pivik, R.T. 2007. Introduction: Cortical event-related potentials and early language development: Variations with age and nutrition. Developmental Neuropsychology. 31(3):247-248.

Interpretive Summary: This paper introduced a special edition of Developmental Neuropsychology in which the proceedings of a USDA-sponsored symposium dealing with nutrition and methodologies involved in the developmental study of cognition, language, and behavior were published. The paper stressed the need for greater emphasis on infant nutrition in these studies and briefly described the 9 papers included in the issue.

Technical Abstract: There is increasing evidence in the form of language-relevant sensory processing and discrimination that the foundations for speech perception are present at birth and are subject to significant modification during the first year of life. However, charting the course of early language development is complicated by the dynamic maturational changes taking place in infants, the variability across infants in how these processes unfold, and the sensitivity of these processes to internal and external influences. Both prenatal (parental genetics, mother’s general health and pharmacologic practices during pregnancy, gestation period) and postnatal (family’s socioeconomic status [SES], parental education) factors have been identified among the influences that may alter the course of this development. However, a postnatal factor largely neglected in these developmental equations is the influence of early diet on these processes in healthy infants. This is surprising since the energy source that fuels early development—particularly within the first half-year after birth—is provided entirely by nutrients present in either human milk or formula, and these diets differ in composition. While it is recognized that the lack of proper nutrition during infancy can have long-lasting effects on physiological and cognitive growth, the extent to which adequate nutrition from different common diets in healthy infants may influence these processes has not been determined. Among techniques used to study central nervous system correlates of language development, those employing event-related potentials (ERPs) have been particularly informative. In addition to mapping the ontogenetic time course of processes involved in language perception and development, the noninvasive probes offered by this methodology hold promise for the early identification of variables that may facilitate or interfere with normal language development. In this regard, research in this area has already produced evidence that the nature of ERP responses to speech sounds may be predictive of later language-related behavior and capabilities. However, deciphering the encoded brain responses to speech stimuli in the developing human continues to present special research challenges in the design of these investigations, the analysis of data, and the interpretation of results. To provide a forum for the focused discussion of these challenges and how they may be impacted by nutritional factors in developmental investigations, a USDA Agriculture Research Service-sponsored symposium was held November 9-10, 2004, at the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas. The symposium brought together prominent investigators with expertise in the application of event-related potential technology to the developmental study of cognition, language and behavior. During the course of the 2-day program, participants presented reviews and original research that served as a basis for group discussions covering a broad range of topics relating to development, behavior, study design and methodology. The nine papers presented in this special issue were developed from these presentations and discussions. These papers reflect both the diversity and scope of developmental ERP research issues considered during the symposium. Each represents an original contribution to the developmental ERP literature and, in keeping with Journal policy, each was subjected to external peer review. In addition to a general review of concepts and principles involved in the application of ERP techniques to study the developing brain (Picton and Taylor) there are: three papers examining the influence of diet on the processing of speech sounds in healthy infants (Pivik et al., Ferguson and Molfese, and Jing et al.); an investigation of individual ERP response differences to native and non-native language sounds in A