Mapping subcortical brain maturation during adolescence: evidence of hemisphere- and sex-specific longitudinal changes

Dev Sci. 2013 Sep;16(5):772-91. doi: 10.1111/desc.12057. Epub 2013 Jun 11.


Early to mid-adolescence is an important developmental period for subcortical brain maturation, but longitudinal studies of these neurodevelopmental changes are lacking. The present study acquired repeated magnetic resonance images from 60 adolescent subjects (28 female) at ages 12.5 and 16.5 years to map changes in subcortical structure volumes. Automated segmentation techniques optimized for longitudinal measurement were used to delineate volumes of the caudate, putamen, nucleus accumbens, pallidum, hippocampus, thalamus and the whole brain. Amygdala volumes were described using manual tracing methods. The results revealed heterogeneous maturation across the regions of interest (ROIs), and change was differentially moderated by sex and hemisphere. The caudate, thalamus and putamen declined in volume, more for females relative to males, and decreases in the putamen and thalamus were greater in the left hemisphere. The pallidum increased in size, but more so in the left hemisphere. While the left nucleus accumbens increased in size, the right accumbens decreased in size over the follow-up period. Increases in hippocampal volume were greater in the right hemisphere. While amygdala volume did not change over time, the left hemisphere was consistently larger than the right. These results suggest that subcortical brain development from early to middle adolescence is characterized by striking hemispheric specialization and sexual dimorphisms, and provide a framework for interpreting normal and abnormal changes in cognition, affect and behavior. Moreover, the differences in findings compared to previous cross-sectional research emphasize the importance of within-subject assessment of brain development during adolescence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Organ Size
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Victoria