Children with developmental language disorder (DLD) struggle to learn their native language for no apparent reason. While research on the neurobiological underpinnings of the disorder has focused on the role of corticostriatal systems, little is known about the role of the cerebellum in DLD. Corticocerebellar circuits might be involved in the disorder as they contribute to complex sensorimotor skill learning, including the acquisition of spoken language. Here, we used diffusion-weighted imaging data from 77 typically developing and 54 children with DLD and performed probabilistic tractography to identify the cerebellum’s white matter tracts: the inferior, middle, and superior cerebellar peduncles. Children with DLD showed lower fractional anisotropy (FA) in the inferior cerebellar peduncles (ICP), fiber tracts that carry motor and sensory input via the inferior olive to the cerebellum. Lower FA in DLD was driven by lower axial diffusivity. Probing this further with more sophisticated modeling of diffusion data, we found higher orientation dispersion but no difference in neurite density in the ICP of children with DLD. Reduced FA is therefore unlikely to be reflecting microstructural differences in myelination, rather the organization of axons in these pathways is disrupted. ICP microstructure was not associated with language or motor coordination performance in our sample. We also found no differences in the middle and superior peduncles, the main pathways connecting the cerebellum with the cortex. To conclude, it is not corticocerebellar but atypical olivocerebellar white matter connections that characterize DLD and suggest the involvement of the olivocerebellar system in speech and language acquisition and development.

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Competing Interests

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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Handling Editor: Catherine Stoodley

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