Normal brain development during childhood is a complex and dynamic process for which detailed scientific information is lacking. MRI techniques, combined with methods for advanced image analysis, offer the potential to begin to construct a quantitative map of normal paediatric brain development in vivo. In this study we utilize volumetric analysis of high resolution brain images obtained from MRI to describe cerebral development and morphology in 85 normal children and adolescents ranging in age from 5 to 17 years. The results show that total cerebral volume is 10% larger in boys compared with girls. However, both boys and girls show little change in total cerebral volume after the age of 5 years. Increased cortical grey matter is the primary contributor to larger brain volume in boys, thus supporting the hypothesis that gender associated differences in brain size are related to differences in cortical neuronal density. Prominent, age-related changes in grey matter, white matter and CSF volumes are evident during childhood and appear to reflect ongoing maturation and remodelling of the CNS. Both boys and girls show a similar pattern of cerebral asymmetry; a rightward prominence of cortical and subcortical grey matter and a leftward prominence of CSF is observed. IQ is positively correlated with total cerebral volume in children, in particular, with the volume of cortical grey matter in the prefrontal region of the brain. Subcortical grey matter also contributes to the variance in IQ, although to a lesser extent than cortical grey volume. Quantitative knowledge of the developing human brain will play an increasingly greater role in improving sensitivity and specificity in the interpretation of brain abnormalities in patients within the clinical environment, as well as in groups of children with suspected brain dysfunction in the research setting.
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