Dr. Hoeft is a neurophysiologist, as well as a systems and developmental cognitive neuroscientist with theoretical interests in the neurobiological mechanisms underlying individual differences in brain maturational processes, acquisition of skills such as literacy and how they interact. Her other areas of interest include brain development, neuroimaging, individual differences, literacy acquisition, and dyslexia.
She is also the lab director of the Laboratory for Learning Engineering and Neural Systems (brainLENS), a collaboration between researchers at UConn and the University of California, San Francisco; and the director of the UConn Waterbury campus.
Areas of Expertise
Keio University School of Medicine
How do we learn to read?
11-year-old Alaska (from Colorado) wants to know: why do some kids love reading while others don’t? We know there’s a lot of debate lately about the best ways to teach kids how to read. But in this episode we leave the pedagogy to adults and let kids share with one another why they love to read and their best tips for kids like them, who may be struggling to learn (and love) to read. Plus, guest Fumiko Hoeft, medical doctor and professor at the University of Connecticut and at the University of California San Francisco, lifts the lid on our brains to explain what’s happening inside us when we learn to read. Dr. Hoeft runs a brain imaging research program and a lab called BrainLENS.
The Scientist: Dr. Fumiko Hoeft
The Waterbury online
Like many professionals, Fumiko Hoeft has a curriculum vitae, or CV – in essence, a resume which offers a summation of a person's education and career to date. Prior to our discussion, she has emailed her CV to us as a Microsoft Word attachment. This is standard fare, until one opens the file and finds tabbed sections like Edited Books, Peer-Reviewed Publications, Selected Abstracts, and Invited Symposia – as well as seventy pages of accolades and accomplishments. Yes, seventy.
Half a million Pa. kids are supposed to be learning to read right now. Are they?
WHYY Radio radio
Experts worry about those lost kids — the students who most need explicit reading instruction, but aren’t getting it right now. Those could be students with a diagnosed learning disability or those who just aren’t the most natural language decoders. What happens when they return? Will they have the support and care needed to fight through the accumulated deficits? Or will they drift further into academic frustration? “Some kids are gonna be minimally impacted. Some kids are gonna be hugely impacted,” said Fumiko Hoeft, a researcher who studies reading development at the University of Connecticut and University of California San Francisco. “And the teachers will have to deal with that widened gap when they come back.”
Researchers to measure 'coronavirus slide' in kids' reading skills
National Science Foundation online
Public schools often have difficulty setting up online learning courses for beginning readers, and many students in poorer communities have no access to online courses, according to Fumiko Hoeft, director of the Brain Imaging Research Center at UConn. During the current crisis, as many as 6% of young students have not had contact with their teachers, and 19% have had contact only on an irregular basis, Hoeft said.
Prospective School Timelines, Sliding Reading Skill Levels
Gov. Gavin Newom said this week that although the state is potentially months from fully reopening, the school year could start in late July or early August. Newsom didn’t specify how much instruction would actually occur on campuses. State Public Health Officer Sonia Angell explained Tuesday that an earlier school year could help students both make up learning gaps and help parents return to full-time work. Guests include two school superintendents and the Director of the Brain Imaging Research Center at the University of Connecticut, Dr. Fumiko Hoeft.
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Scientific American online
“We joke about inheriting stubbornness or organization—but we've never actually seen that in human brain networks before,” says lead author Fumiko Hoeft, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. The finding suggests a significant female-specific maternal transmission pattern in emotional responses. This could include mood disorders such as depression, although confirming that would mean extending the research to encompass families with a history of such disorders, notes Geneviève Piché, a psychology professor at the University of Quebec at Outaouais who was not involved in the study.
Mothers may pass daughters a brain wired for depression
“While our study was not directly done in depressed families, our findings may mean that if mothers have brain structural anomalies in the corticolimbic circuitry, their female but not male offspring are more likely to have similar abnormal structural patterns in the same brain regions, which would be consistent with how depression is linked within families,” said lead study author Dr. Fumiko Hoeft of the University of California, San Francisco
How Children Learn To Read
The New Yorker online
This is the mystery that has animated the work of Fumiko Hoeft, a cognitive neuroscientist and psychiatrist currently at the University of California, San Francisco. “You know where the color of your eyes came from, your facial features, your hair, your height. Maybe even your personality—I’m stubborn like mom, sloppy like dad,” Hoeft says. “But what we’re trying to do is find out, by looking at brain networks and accounting for everything in the environment, is where your reading ability originates.”
Doubts raised over dyslexia diagnoses
The Telegraph online
Fumiko Hoeft and colleagues added that "any child with a reading difficulty, regardless of his or her general level of cognitive abilities (IQ), should be encouraged to seek reading intervention".
Neural Noise Hypothesis of Developmental Dyslexia.Trends in Cognitive Sciences
Hancock R, Pugh KR, Hoeft F.
Developmental dyslexia (decoding-based reading disorder; RD) is a complex trait with multifactorial origins at the genetic, neural, and cognitive levels. There is evidence that low-level sensory-processing deficits precede and underlie phonological problems, which are one of the best-documented aspects of RD. RD is also associated with impairments in integrating visual symbols with their corresponding speech sounds. Although causal relationships between sensory processing, print-speech integration, and fluent reading, and their neural bases are debated, these processes all require precise timing mechanisms across distributed brain networks. Neural excitability and neural noise are fundamental to these timing mechanisms. Here, we propose that neural noise stemming from increased neural excitability in cortical networks implicated in reading is one key distal contributor to RD.
Possible roles for fronto-striatal circuits in reading disorder.Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Hancock R, Richlan F, Hoeft F
Several studies have reported hyperactivation in frontal and striatal regions in individuals with reading disorder (RD) during reading-related tasks. Hyperactivation in these regions is typically interpreted as a form of neural compensation related to articulatory processing. Fronto-striatal hyperactivation in RD could however, also arise from fundamental impairment in reading related processes, such as phonological processing and implicit sequence learning relevant to early language acquisition. We review current evidence for the compensation hypothesis in RD and apply large-scale reverse inference to investigate anatomical overlap between hyperactivation regions and neural systems for articulation, phonological processing, implicit sequence learning. We found anatomical convergence between hyperactivation regions and regions supporting articulation, consistent with the proposed compensatory role of these regions, and low convergence with phonological and implicit sequence learning regions. Although the application of large-scale reverse inference to decode function in a clinical population should be interpreted cautiously, our findings suggest future lines of research that may clarify the functional significance of hyperactivation in RD.
Intergenerational Neuroimaging of Human Brain Circuitry.Trends in Neuroscience
Ho TC, Sanders SJ, Gotlib IH, Hoeft F
Neuroscientists are increasingly using advanced neuroimaging methods to elucidate the intergenerational transmission of human brain circuitry. This new line of work promises to shed light on the ontogeny of complex behavioral traits, including psychiatric disorders, and possible mechanisms of transmission. Here we highlight recent intergenerational neuroimaging studies and provide recommendations for future work.
Integrating MRI brain imaging studies of pre-reading children with current theories of developmental dyslexia: A review and quantitative meta-analysis.Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences
Vandermosten M, Hoeft F, Norton ES
The neurobiological substrates that cause people with dyslexia to experience difficulty in acquiring accurate and fluent reading skills are still largely unknown. Although structural and functional brain anomalies associated with dyslexia have been reported in adults and school-age children, these anomalies may represent differences in reading experience rather than the etiology of dyslexia. Conducting MRI studies of pre-readers at risk for dyslexia is one approach that enables us to identify brain alterations that exist before differences in reading experience emerge. The current review summarizes MRI studies that examine brain differences associated with risk for dyslexia in children before reading instruction and meta-analyzes these studies. In order to link these findings with current etiological theories of dyslexia, we focus on studies that take a modular perspective rather than a network approach. Although some of the observed differences in pre-readers at risk for dyslexia may still be shaped by language experiences during the first years of life, such studies underscore the existence of reading-related brain anomalies prior to reading onset and could eventually lead to earlier and more precise diagnosis and treatment of dyslexia.
Female-Specific Intergenerational Transmission Patterns of the Human Corticolimbic Circuitry.Journal of Neuroscience
Yamagata B, Murayama K, Black JM, Hancock R, Mimura M, Yang TT, Reiss AL, Hoeft F
Parents have large genetic and environmental influences on offspring's cognition, behavior, and brain. These intergenerational effects are observed in mood disorders, with particularly robust association in depression between mothers and daughters. No studies have thus far examined the neural bases of these intergenerational effects in humans. Corticolimbic circuitry is known to be highly relevant in a wide range of processes, including mood regulation and depression. These findings suggest that corticolimbic circuitry may also show matrilineal transmission patterns. Therefore, we examined human parent-offspring association in this neurocircuitry and investigated the degree of association in gray matter volume between parent and offspring. We used voxelwise correlation analysis in a total of 35 healthy families, consisting of parents and their biological offspring. We found positive associations of regional gray matter volume in the corticolimbic circuit, including the amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex between biological mothers and daughters. This association was significantly greater than mother-son, father-daughter, and father-son associations. The current study suggests that the corticolimbic circuitry, which has been implicated in mood regulation, shows a matrilineal-specific transmission patterns. Our preliminary findings are consistent with what has been found behaviorally in depression and may have clinical implications for disorders known to have dysfunction in mood regulation such as depression. Studies such as ours will likely bridge animal work examining gene expression in the brains and clinical symptom-based observations and provide promising ways to investigate intergenerational transmission patterns in the human brain.