Researchers have mapped the changes in the the brain that improve the ability of young people to control impulses, stay organized, and make decisions.
These “executive functions” of the brain are key factors in educational success, drug use, and psychiatric illness, the study said.
As brains mature, they become increasingly segregated into distinct network modules for greater efficiency, according to the study. Executive function improvement with age depends on the degree to which that well-defined modular network structure emerges, the researchers said.
The modular architecture of brains is critical for the development of complex cognition and behavior, the study suggests. The research could lead to the identification of biomarkers of abnormal brain development that could predict a person’s risk for psychosis and major mood disorders, the authors said.
The study analyzed data from 882 people between the ages of 8 and 22 who completed diffusion imaging as part of the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort, a community-based study of brain development that includes rich neuroimaging and cognitive data.
The results showed that executive function improved markedly with age. An analysis of the brain images revealed an increasingly specialized and modular structure that was at the same time fully integrated.
“The development of modular network architecture did not result in the brain becoming fragmented,” said s the study’s first author Graham Baum, a PhD candidate in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
“In fact, the overall network communication capacity actually increased, due to strengthening of specific ‘hub’ connections between modules. These results show that as kids grow up, their brain becomes more segregated into specialized units, but also more integrated as a whole.”
The researchers are now investigating whether information about brain networks can predict the emergence of psychiatric disorders in children years later.
The study is published in the journal Current Biology
Source: Cell Press
Photo Credit: Baum et al.