Myelin development in cerebral gray and white matter during adolescence and late childhood

Neuroimage. 2021 Feb 15;227:117678. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.117678. Epub 2020 Dec 29.


Myelin development during adolescence is becoming an area of growing interest in view of its potential relationship to cognition, behavior, and learning. While recent investigations suggest that both white matter (WM) and gray matter (GM) undergo protracted myelination during adolescence, quantitative relations between myelin development in WM and GM have not been previously studied. We quantitatively characterized the dependence of cortical GM, WM, and subcortical myelin density across the brain on age, gender, and puberty status during adolescence with the use of a novel macromolecular proton fraction (MPF) mapping method. Whole-brain MPF maps from a cross-sectional sample of 146 adolescents (age range 9-17 years) were collected. Myelin density was calculated from MPF values in GM and WM of all brain lobes, as well as in subcortical structures. In general, myelination of cortical GM was widespread and more significantly correlated with age than that of WM. Myelination of GM in the parietal lobe was found to have a significantly stronger age dependence than that of GM in the frontal, occipital, temporal and insular lobes. Myelination of WM in the temporal lobe had the strongest association with age as compared to WM in other lobes. Myelin density was found to be higher in males as compared to females when averaged across all cortical lobes, as well as in a bilateral subcortical region. Puberty stage was significantly correlated with myelin density in several cortical areas and in the subcortical GM. These findings point to significant differences in the trajectories of myelination of GM and WM across brain regions and suggest that cortical GM myelination plays a dominant role during adolescent development.

Keywords: Adolescent brain; Cortical myelination; Macromolecular proton fraction mapping; Myelin; White matter myelination.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / growth & development*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Myelin Sheath*
  • White Matter / growth & development*