Maturation of cortical microstructure and cognitive development in childhood and adolescence: A T1w/T2w ratio MRI study

Hum Brain Mapp. 2020 Nov;41(16):4676-4690. doi: 10.1002/hbm.25149. Epub 2020 Aug 3.


The restructuring and optimization of the cerebral cortex from early childhood and through adolescence is an essential feature of human brain development, underlying immense cognitive improvements. Beyond established morphometric cortical assessments, the T1w/T2w ratio quantifies partly separate biological processes, and might inform models of typical neurocognitive development and developmental psychopathology. In the present study, we computed vertex-wise T1w/T2w ratio across the cortical surface in 621 youths (3-21 years) sampled from the Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition, and Genetics (PING) study and tested for associations with individual differences in age, sex, and both general and specific cognitive abilities. The results showed a near global linear age-related increase in T1w/T2w ratio across the brain surface, with a general posterior to anterior increasing gradient in association strength. Moreover, results indicated that boys in late adolescence had regionally higher T1w/T2w ratio as compared to girls. Across individuals, T1w/T2w ratio was negatively associated with general and several specific cognitive abilities mainly within anterior cortical regions. Our study indicates age-related differences in T1w/T2w ratio throughout childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, in line with the known protracted myelination of the cortex. Moreover, the study supports T1w/T2w ratio as a promising surrogate measure of individual differences in intracortical brain structure in neurodevelopment.

Keywords: adolescence; brain development; children; cognition; myelination; signal intensity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Female
  • Human Development / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Young Adult