The human brain is organized into circuits that develop from childhood through adulthood to support executive function- critical behaviors like self-control, decision making, and complex thought. These circuits are anchored by white matter pathways which coordinate the brain activity necessary for cognition. However, little research exists to explain how white matter matures to support activity that allows for improved executive function during adolescence- a period of rapid brain development.
Researchers from the Lifespan Brain Institute of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia applied tools from network science to identify how anatomical connections in the brain develop to support neural activity underlying these key areas. The findings were published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .
By charting brain development across childhood and adolescence, we can better understand how the brain supports executive function and self-control in both healthy kids and those with different mental health experiences. Since abnormalities in developing brain connectivity and deficits in executive function are often linked to the emergence of mental illness during youth, our findings may help identify biomarkers of brain development that predict cognitive and clinical outcomes later in life." Theodore Satterthwaite, MD, study's senior author, assistant professor of Psychiatry at Penn
In this study, the researchers mapped structure-function coupling-;the degree to which a brain region's pattern of anatomical connections supports synchronized neural activity. This could be thought of like a highway, where the anatomical connections are the road and the functional connections are the traffic flowing along those roads. Researchers mapped and analyzed multi-modal neuroimaging data from 727 participants ages 8 to 23 years, and three major findings emerged.
First, the team found that regional variability in structure-function coupling was inversely related to the complexity of the function a given brain area is responsible for. Higher structure-function coupling was found in parts of the brain that are specialized for processing simple sensory information, like the visual system. In contrast, there was lower structure-function coupling in complex parts of the brain that are responsible for executive function and self-control, which require more abstract and flexible processing. Related Stories
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