Structural brain development between childhood and adulthood: Convergence across four longitudinal samples

Longitudinal studies including brain measures acquired through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have enabled population models of human brain development, crucial for our understanding of typical development as well as neurodevelopmental disorders.


Brain development in the first two decades generally involves early cortical grey matter volume (CGMV) increases followed by decreases, and monotonic increases in cerebral white matter volume (CWMV). However, inconsistencies regarding the precise developmental trajectories call into question the comparability of samples. This issue can be addressed by conducting a comprehensive study across multiple datasets from diverse populations. Here, we present replicable models for gross structural brain development between childhood and adulthood (ages 8–30 years) by repeating analyses in four separate longitudinal samples (391 participants; 852 scans). In addition, we address how accounting for global measures of cranial/brain size affect these developmental trajectories. First, we found evidence for continued development of both intracranial volume (ICV) and whole brain volume (WBV) through adolescence, albeit following distinct trajectories. Second, our results indicate that CGMV is at its highest in childhood, decreasing steadily through the second decade with deceleration in the third decade, while CWMV increases until mid-to-late adolescence before decelerating. Importantly, we show that accounting for cranial/brain size affects models of regional brain development, particularly with respect to sex differences. Our results increase confidence in our knowledge of the pattern of brain changes during adolescence, reduce concerns about discrepancies across samples, and suggest some best practices for statistical control of cranial volume and brain size in future studies.

NeuroImage, 2016, 141, 273–281

Published Sep. 5, 2016 7:00 AM