Mapping changes in the human cortex throughout the span of life

Neuroscientist. 2004 Aug;10(4):372-92. doi: 10.1177/1073858404263960.


In this review, the authors summarize the literature on brain morphological changes that occur throughout the human life span from childhood into old age. They examine changes observed postmortem and in vivo where various brain MRI analytic methods have been applied. They evaluate brain changes observed with volumetric image analytic methods and voxel-based morphometric methods that may be used to better localize where changes occur. The primary focus of the review is on recent studies using state-of-the-art cortical pattern-matching techniques to assess age-related changes in cortical asymmetries, gray matter distribution, and brain growth across various age spans. The authors attempt to integrate findings from the in vivo studies with results from postmortem studies and analyze the complicated question of when brain maturation stops and brain aging begins. Analyzing the regional patterns of change initiated at various ages may help elucidate relationships between changing brain morphology and changing cognitive functions that occur throughout life. Long-range longitudinal studies, correlations between imaging and postmortem data, and more advanced image acquisition and analysis technologies will be needed to fully interpret brain morphological changes observed in vivo in relation to development and aging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Atrophy / pathology
  • Atrophy / physiopathology
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / trends
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / physiology
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / ultrastructure
  • Nerve Net / anatomy & histology*
  • Nerve Net / growth & development*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology