Mapping continued brain growth and gray matter density reduction in dorsal frontal cortex: Inverse relationships during postadolescent brain maturation.
Recent in vivo structural imaging studies have shown spatial and temporal patterns of brain maturation between childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood that are generally consistent with postmortem studies of cellular maturational events such as increased myelination and synaptic pruning. In this study, we conducted detailed spatial and temporal analyses of growth and gray matter density at the cortical surface of the brain in a group of 35 normally developing children, adolescents, and young adults. To accomplish this, we used high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging and novel computational image analysis techniques. For the first time, in this report we have mapped the continued postadolescent brain growth that occurs primarily in the dorsal aspects of the frontal lobe bilaterally and in the posterior temporo-occipital junction bilaterally. Notably, maps of the spatial distribution of postadolescent cortical gray matter density reduction are highly consistent with maps of the spatial distribution of postadolescent brain growth, showing an inverse relationship between cortical gray matter density reduction and brain growth primarily in the superior frontal regions that control executive cognitive functioning. Inverse relationships are not as robust in the posterior temporo-occipital junction where gray matter density reduction is much less prominent despite late brain growth in these regions between adolescence and adulthood. Overall brain growth is not significant between childhood and adolescence, but close spatial relationships between gray matter density reduction and brain growth are observed in the dorsal parietal and frontal cortex. These results suggest that progressive cellular maturational events, such as increased myelination, may play as prominent a role during the postadolescent years as regressive events, such as synaptic pruning, in determining the ultimate density of mature frontal lobe cortical gray matter.