Age-related changes in tissue signal properties within cortical areas important for word understanding in 12- to 19-month-old infants

Cereb Cortex. 2014 Jul;24(7):1948-55. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht052. Epub 2013 Feb 28.


Recently, our laboratory has shown that the neural mechanisms for encoding lexico-semantic information in adults operate functionally by 12-18 months of age within left frontotemporal cortices (Travis et al., 2011. Spatiotemporal neural dynamics of word understanding in 12- to 18-month-old-infants. Cereb Cortex. 8:1832-1839). However, there is minimal knowledge of the structural changes that occur within these and other cortical regions important for language development. To identify regional structural changes taking place during this important period in infant development, we examined age-related changes in tissue signal properties of gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM) intensity and contrast. T1-weighted surface-based measures were acquired from 12- to 19-month-old infants and analyzed using a general linear model. Significant age effects were observed for GM and WM intensity and contrast within bilateral inferior lateral and anterovental temporal regions, dorsomedial frontal, and superior parietal cortices. Region of interest (ROI) analyses revealed that GM and WM intensity and contrast significantly increased with age within the same left lateral temporal regions shown to generate lexico-semantic activity in infants and adults. These findings suggest that neurophysiological processes supporting linguistic and cognitive behaviors may develop before cellular and structural maturation is complete within associative cortices. These results have important implications for understanding the neurobiological mechanisms relating structural to functional brain development.

Keywords: brain development; infants; language, structural MRI.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Infant
  • Language Development*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Vocabulary*