Anatomical MRI of the developing human brain: what have we learned?

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2001 Sep;40(9):1012-20. doi: 10.1097/00004583-200109000-00009.


Objective: To critically review and integrate the existing literature on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies of the normally developing brain in childhood and adolescence and discuss the implications for clinical MRI studies.

Method: Changes in regional brain volume with age and differences between the sexes are summarized from reports in refereed journal articles pertaining to MRI of the developing human brain.

Results: White matter volume increases with age. Gray matter volumes increase during childhood and then decrease before adulthood. On average, boys have larger brains than girls; after correction for overall brain volume the caudate is relatively larger in girls, and the amygdala is relatively larger in boys. Differences are of clinical interest given gender-related differences in the age of onset, symptomatology, and prevalence noted for nearly all childhood-onset psychiatric disorders. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is frequently used as an example to demonstrate these points.

Conclusions: Understanding the developmental trajectories of normal brain development and differences between the sexes is important for the interpretation of clinical imaging studies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anthropometry
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Sex Factors