Human brain maturation is characterized by the prolonged development of structural and functional properties of large-scale networks that extends into adulthood. However, it is not clearly understood which features change and which remain stable over time. Here, we examined structural connectivity based on diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) in 121 participants between 4 and 40 years of age. DTI data were analyzed for small-world parameters, modularity, and the number of fiber tracts at the level of streamlines. First, our findings showed that the number of fiber tracts, small-world topology, and modular organization remained largely stable despite a substantial overall decrease in the number of streamlines with age. Second, this decrease mainly affected fiber tracts that had a large number of streamlines, were short, within modules and within hemispheres; such connections were affected significantly more often than would be expected given their number of occurrences in the network. Third, streamline loss occurred earlier in females than in males. In summary, our findings suggest that core properties of structural brain connectivity, such as the small-world and modular organization, remain stable during brain maturation by focusing streamline loss to specific types of fiber tracts.
Keywords: brain connectivity; connectome; maturation; network analysis; tractography.
© The Author 2013. Published by Oxford University Press.