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    Rapid changes in brain activity during learning of grapheme-phoneme associations in adults

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    Learning to associate written letters with speech sounds is crucial for the initial phase of acquiring reading skills. However, little is known about the cortical reorganization for supporting letter-speech sound learning, particularly the brain dynamics during the learning of grapheme-phoneme associations. In the present study, we trained 30 Finnish participants (mean age: 24.33 years, SD: 3.50 years) to associate novel foreign letters with familiar Finnish speech sounds on two consecutive days (first day ∼ 50 minutes; second day ∼ 25 minutes), while neural activity was measured using magnetoencephalography (MEG). Two sets of audiovisual stimuli were used for the training in which the grapheme-phoneme association in one set (Learnable) could be learned based on the different learning cues provided, but not in the other set (Control). The learning progress was tracked at a trial-by-trial basis and used to segment different learning stages for the MEG source analysis. The learning-related changes were examined by comparing the brain responses to Learnable and Control uni/multi-sensory stimuli, as well as the brain responses to learning cues at different learning stages over the two days. We found dynamic changes in brain responses related to multi-sensory processing when grapheme-phoneme associations were learned. Further, changes were observed in the brain responses to the novel letters during the learning process. We also found that some of these learning effects were observed only after memory consolidation the following day. Overall, the learning process modulated the activity in a large network of brain regions, including the superior temporal cortex and the dorsal (parietal) pathway. Most interestingly, middle- and inferior- temporal regions were engaged during multi-sensory memory encoding after the cross-modal relationship was extracted from the learning cues. Our findings highlight the brain dynamics and plasticity related to the learning of letter-speech sound associations and provide a more refined model of grapheme-phoneme learning in reading acquisition.peerReviewe