A neuroimaging study has identified network-level plasticity mechanisms involved in cognitive maturation during adolescence and into adulthood. Findings from this study were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The investigators mapped and analyzed structure-function coupling and multimodal neuroimaging data of 727 children, adolescents, and young adults between age 8 and 23 years (mean age, 15.9±3.2 years). A total of 147 typically developing youths returned for longitudinal neuroimaging assessments approximately 1.7 years following baseline.
Imaging found less structure-function coupling in complex brain regions responsible for self-control and executive function. Conversely, higher structure-function coupling was observed in brain regions directing the processing of simple sensory information. Structure-function coupling was similar to known brain expansion patterns observed in the course of the primate evolution and human development. Age-related differences in coupling were observed within a subset of transmodal regions covering higher-order association networks.
In addition, the investigators observed an increase in structure-function coupling in complex frontal brain regions that are mostly responsible for self-control throughout both childhood and adolescence. According to the researchers, prolonged nature of coupling in these regions may be associated with improvements in self-control and executive function, qualities that continue to develop into adulthood.
Study limitations included the potential confounding effect associated with motion artifact, as well as the limited capability of the investigators’ approach to determine the impact of individual network connections on the studied regional measures.
The researchers wrote that the findings from this study offer general relevance “for accounts of experience-dependent plasticity in healthy development and abnormal development associated with neuropsychiatric illness.” In addition, they added that the study of how underlying white-matter architecture matures “to support coordinated neural activity underlying executive function may offer critical insights into the basis for many sources of adolescent morbidity and mortality, such as risk taking and diverse neuropsychiatric syndromes which are prominently associated with failures of executive function.”
Baum GL, Cui Z, Roalf DR, et al. Development of structure-function coupling in human brain networks during youth. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020;117(1):771-778.