White matter development during adolescence as shown by diffusion MRI

Brain Cogn. 2010 Feb;72(1):16-25. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2009.06.005. Epub 2009 Jul 22.


Previous volumetric developmental MRI studies of the brain have shown white matter development continuing through adolescence and into adulthood. This review presents current findings regarding white matter development and organization from diffusion MRI studies. The general trend during adolescence (age 12-18 years) is towards increasing fractional anisotropy (FA) with age and decreasing mean diffusivity (MD) with age, findings primarily due to decreasing radial diffusivity with age. However, results of studies vary as to the regional specificity of such age-related changes, likely due in part to methodological issues. Another general trend is for FA to positively correlate and MD to negatively correlate with cognitive function. This trend is however region-specific, task-specific, and population-specific; some studies have in fact found negative correlations of FA and positive correlations of MD in specific regions with specific measures of cognitive performance. There are also published reports of sexual dimorphism in white matter development, indicating differing developmental trajectories between males and females as well as differing relationships developmentally between white matter architecture and cognitive function. There is a need for more research to further elucidate the development of white matter and its relation to cognitive function during this critical developmental period.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Child
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated* / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neural Pathways / growth & development
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Sex Characteristics