Recent findings from developmental neuroimaging studies suggest that the enhancement of cognitive processes during development may be the result of a fine-tuning of the structural and functional organization of brain with maturation. However, the details regarding the developmental trajectory of large-scale structural brain networks are not yet understood. Here, we used graph theory to examine developmental changes in the organization of structural brain networks in 203 normally growing children and adolescents. Structural brain networks were constructed using interregional correlations in cortical thickness for 4 age groups (early childhood: 4.8-8.4 year; late childhood: 8.5-11.3 year; early adolescence: 11.4-14.7 year; late adolescence: 14.8-18.3 year). Late childhood showed prominent changes in topological properties, specifically a significant reduction in local efficiency, modularity, and increased global efficiency, suggesting a shift of topological organization toward a more random configuration. An increase in number and span of distribution of connector hubs was found in this age group. Finally, inter-regional connectivity analysis and graph-theoretic measures indicated early maturation of primary sensorimotor regions and protracted development of higher order association and paralimbic regions. Our finding reveals a time window of plasticity occurring during late childhood which may accommodate crucial changes during puberty and the new developmental tasks that an adolescent faces.
Keywords: adolescence; connectivity; connector hub; cortical thickness; maturation.