Neuroimaging studies of normal brain development and their relevance for understanding childhood neuropsychiatric disorders

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2008 Nov;47(11):1233-51. doi: 10.1097/CHI.0b013e318185e703.


Objective: To review the maturational events that occur during prenatal and postnatal brain development and to present neuroimaging findings from studies of healthy individuals that identify the trajectories of normal brain development.

Method: Histological and postmortem findings of early brain development are presented, followed by a discussion of anatomical, diffusion tensor, proton spectroscopy, and functional imaging findings from studies of healthy individuals, with special emphasis on longitudinal data.

Results: Early brain development occurs through a sequence of major events, beginning with the formation of the neural tube and ending with myelination. Brain development at a macroscopic level typically proceeds first in sensorimotor areas, spreading subsequently and progressively into dorsal and parietal, superior temporal, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices throughout later childhood and adolescence. These patterns of anatomical development parallel increasing activity in frontal cortices that subserves the development of higher-order cognitive functions during late childhood and adolescence. Disturbances in these developmental patterns seem to be involved centrally in the pathogenesis of various childhood psychiatric disorders including childhood-onset schizophrenia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, developmental dyslexia, Tourette's syndrome, and bipolar disorder.

Conclusions: Advances in imaging techniques have enhanced our understanding of normal developmental trajectories in the brain, which may improve insight into the abnormal patterns of development in various childhood psychiatric disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Atrophy
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional*
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy*
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pregnancy
  • Young Adult