April 12, 2021

Individual variability in structural brain development from late childhood to young adulthood

A fundamental task in neuroscience is to characterize the brain’s developmental course. While replicable group-level models of structural brain development from childhood to adulthood have recently been identified, we have yet to quantify and understand individual differences in structural brain development. The present study examined individual variability and sex differences in changes in brain structure, as assessed by anatomical MRI, across ages 8.0-26.0 years in 269 participants (149 females) with three time points of data (807 scans), drawn from three longitudinal datasets collected in the Netherlands, Norway, and USA. We further investigated the relationship between overall brain size and developmental changes, as well as how females and males differed in change variability across development. There was considerable individual variability in the magnitude of changes observed for all included brain measures. However, distinct developmental patterns of change were observed for total brain and cortical gray matter, cortical thickness, and white matter surface area, with individuals demonstrating either stability or decreases in early adolescence, then almost universal decreases during mid-to-late adolescence, before returning to more variable patterns in early adulthood. White matter volume demonstrated a similar developmental pattern of variability, but with individuals shifting from increases to a majority stabilizing during mid-to-late adolescence. We observed sex differences in these patterns, and also an association between an individual’s brain size and their overall rate of change. The present study provides new insight as to the amount of individual variance in changes in structural morphometrics from late childhood to early adulthood in order to obtain a more nuanced picture of brain development. The observed individual- and sex-differences in brain changes also highlight the importance of further studying individual variation in developmental patterns in healthy, at-risk, and clinical populations.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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