Pediatric Brain Development in Down Syndrome: A Field in Its Infancy

J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2018 Oct;24(9):966-976. doi: 10.1017/S1355617718000206. Epub 2018 May 23.


Objectives: As surprisingly little is known about the developing brain studied in vivo in youth with Down syndrome (DS), the current review summarizes the small DS pediatric structural neuroimaging literature and begins to contextualize existing research within a developmental framework.

Methods: A systematic review of the literature was completed, effect sizes from published studies were reviewed, and results are presented with respect to the DS cognitive behavioral phenotype and typical brain development.

Results: The majority of DS structural neuroimaging studies describe gross differences in brain morphometry and do not use advanced neuroimaging methods to provide nuanced descriptions of the brain. There is evidence for smaller total brain volume (TBV), total gray matter (GM) and white matter, cortical lobar, hippocampal, and cerebellar volumes. When reductions in TBV are accounted for, specific reductions are noted in subregions of the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, cerebellum, and hippocampus. A review of cortical lobar effect sizes reveals mostly large effect sizes from early childhood through adolescence. However, deviance is smaller in adolescence. Despite these smaller effects, frontal GM continues to be largely deviant in adolescence. An examination of age-frontal GM relations using effect sizes from published studies and data from Lee et al. (2016) reveals that while there is a strong inverse relationship between age and frontal GM volume in controls across childhood and adolescence, this is not observed in DS.

Conclusions: Further developmentally focused research, ideally using longitudinal neuroimaging, is needed to elucidate the nature of the DS neuroanatomic phenotype during childhood and adolescence. (JINS, 2018, 24, 966-976).

Trial registration: NCT00001246.

Keywords: Cerebellum; Cerebral cortex; Frontal lobe; Hippocampus; Magnetic resonance imaging; Trisomy 21.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Down Syndrome / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn

Associated data