Maturing brain – it’s a network of connections!

Every parent is familiar with children growth charts. Given age and gender, their current age, these charts can predict how they will progress, what height they are likely to achieve etc. Now scientists are able chart out how some connections become stronger while others weaken.

Unlike a lot of natural phenomena height distribution, brain growth etc. all follow normal distribution. The brain chart might in future help compare a person’s brain to the “normal” brain. Also it could help predict the likelihood of some diseases like autism, schizophrenia etc.

Researchers led by Nico Dosenbach and Bradley Schlaggar, both of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, constructed the brain maturity curve using data from 238 volunteers of ages 7 to 30. Each subject spent about five minutes quietly resting while an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, machine recorded patterns of blood movement in over a hundred different brain regions. Because no tasks are required of the patient, the quick scan can be used on infants or patients who are unable to respond to directions.

The scan data is fed into computer which assessing the features, spits out a score reflecting the brain age of the person.This score was based on how activity in each region of the brain correlated with the activity in all the other regions. In this way, the researchers described the properties of brain connectivity for each of the 238 subjects, and constructed a curve showing how this score goes up over the years.

The maturation scores for brains of 115 females (red) and 123 males (blue) between the ages of 7 and 30 years old were assembled into an average curve (black line), which shows that the brain changes quickly at young ages and levels off in the early 20s. (The gray solid line shows an alternate curve that also fits the data. Dashed lines mark the 95 percent prediction limits.)

As the brain matures, some connections get stronger (orange) while others weaken (green). The sizes of the brain regions shown indicate their relative importance in predicting maturity.Image © Science/AAAS

Published September 10 in Science, the study reveals how a typical brain’s connections evolve with age, information that could help doctors detect a variety of disorders — many of which are marked by disordered neural connections — earlier.

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