Regions of the human brain develop at different rates across the first two decades of life, with some maturing before others. It has been hypothesized that a mismatch in the timing of maturation between subcortical regions (involved in affect and reward processing) and prefrontal regions (involved in cognitive control) underlies the increase in risk-taking and sensation-seeking behaviors observed during adolescence. Most support for this 'dual systems' hypothesis relies on cross-sectional data, and it is not known whether this pattern is present at an individual level. The current study utilizes longitudinal structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data to describe the developmental trajectories of regions associated with risk-taking and sensation-seeking behaviors, namely, the amygdala, nucleus accumbens (NAcc) and prefrontal cortex (PFC). Structural trajectories of gray matter volumes were analyzed using FreeSurfer in 33 participants aged 7-30 years, each of whom had at least three high-quality MRI scans spanning three developmental periods: late childhood, adolescence and early adulthood (total 152 scans). The majority of individuals in our sample showed relatively earlier maturation in the amygdala and/or NAcc compared to the PFC, providing evidence for a mismatch in the timing of structural maturation between these structures. We then related individual developmental trajectories to retrospectively assessed self-reported risk-taking and sensation-seeking behaviors during adolescence in a subsample of 24 participants. Analysis of this smaller sample failed to find a relationship between the presence of a mismatch in brain maturation and risk-taking and sensation-seeking behaviors during adolescence. Taken together, it appears that the developmental mismatch in structural brain maturation is present in neurotypically developing individuals. This pattern of development did not directly relate to self-reported behaviors at an individual level in our sample, highlighting the need for prospective studies combining anatomical and behavioral measures.
© 2014 S. Karger AG, Basel.