White matter development in adolescence: a DTI study

Cereb Cortex. 2010 Sep;20(9):2122-31. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhp282. Epub 2010 Jan 5.


Adolescence is a unique period of physical and cognitive development that includes concurrent pubertal changes and sex-based vulnerabilities. While diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) studies show white matter maturation throughout the lifespan, the state of white matter integrity specific to adolescence is not well understood as are the contributions of puberty and sex. We performed whole-brain DTI studies of 114 children, adolescents, and adults to identify age-related changes in white matter integrity that characterize adolescence. A distinct set of regions across the brain were found to have decreasing radial diffusivity across age groups. Region of interest analyses revealed that maturation was attained by adolescence in broadly distributed association and projection fibers, including those supporting cortical and brain stem integration that may underlie known enhancements in reaction time during this period. Maturation after adolescence included association and projection tracts, including prefrontal-striatal connections, known to support top-down executive control of behavior and interhemispheric connectivity. Maturation proceeded in parallel with pubertal changes to the postpubertal stage, suggesting hormonal influences on white matter development. Females showed earlier maturation of white matter integrity compared with males. Together, these findings suggest that white matter connectivity supporting executive control of behavior is still immature in adolescence.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Aging / psychology
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neural Pathways / growth & development
  • Young Adult