Topologically dissociable patterns of development of the human cerebral cortex

J Neurosci. 2015 Jan 14;35(2):599-609. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3628-14.2015.


Over 90 years ago, anatomists noted the cortex is thinner in sulci than gyri, suggesting that development may occur on a fine scale driven by local topology. However, studies of brain development in youth have focused on describing how cortical thickness varies over large-scale functional and anatomic regions. How the relationship between thickness and local sulcal topology arises in development is still not well understood. Here, we investigated the spatial relationships between cortical thickness, folding, and underlying white matter organization to elucidate the influence of local topology on human brain development. Our approach included using both T1-weighted imaging and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) in a cross-sectional sample of 932 youths ages 8-21 studied as part of the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort. Principal components analysis revealed separable development-related processes of regionally specific nonlinear cortical thickening (from ages 8-14) and widespread linear cortical thinning that have dissociable relationships with cortical topology. Whereas cortical thinning was most prominent in the depths of the sulci, early cortical thickening was present on the gyri. Furthermore, decline in mean diffusivity calculated from DTI in underlying white matter was correlated with cortical thinning, suggesting that cortical thinning is spatially associated with white matter development. Spatial permutation tests were used to assess the significance of these relationships. Together, these data demonstrate that cortical remodeling during youth occurs on a local topological scale and is associated with changes in white matter beneath the cortical surface.

Keywords: MRI; cortex; cortical thickness; development; diffusion imaging; white matter.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Organ Specificity
  • White Matter / growth & development
  • White Matter / physiology
  • Young Adult