Brain development during adolescence: A mixed-longitudinal investigation of cortical thickness, surface area, and volume

Hum Brain Mapp. 2016 Jun;37(6):2027-38. doi: 10.1002/hbm.23154. Epub 2016 Mar 4.


What we know about cortical development during adolescence largely stems from analyses of cross-sectional or cohort-sequential samples, with few studies investigating brain development using a longitudinal design. Further, cortical volume is a product of two evolutionarily and genetically distinct features of the cortex - thickness and surface area, and few studies have investigated development of these three characteristics within the same sample. The current study examined maturation of cortical thickness, surface area and volume during adolescence, as well as sex differences in development, using a mixed longitudinal design. 192 MRI scans were obtained from 90 healthy (i.e., free from lifetime psychopathology) adolescents (11-20 years) at three time points (with different MRI scanners used at time 1 compared to 2 and 3). Developmental trajectories were estimated using linear mixed models. Non-linear increases were present across most of the cortex for surface area. In comparison, thickness and volume were both characterised by a combination of non-linear decreasing and increasing trajectories. While sex differences in volume and surface area were observed across time, no differences in thickness were identified. Furthermore, few regions exhibited sex differences in the cortical development. Our findings clearly illustrate that volume is a product of surface area and thickness, with each exhibiting differential patterns of development during adolescence, particularly in regions known to contribute to the development of social-cognition and behavioral regulation. These findings suggest that thickness and surface area may be driven by different underlying mechanisms, with each measure potentially providing independent information about brain development. Hum Brain Mapp 37:2027-2038, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: FreeSurfer; brain structure; cortical development; neurodevelopment; sex differences.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development*
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Organ Size
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Young Adult