Development of Human Lateral Prefrontal Sulcal Morphology and Its Relation to Reasoning Performance

J Neurosci. 2023 Apr 5;43(14):2552-2567. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1745-22.2023. Epub 2023 Feb 24.


Previous findings show that the morphology of folds (sulci) of the human cerebral cortex flatten during postnatal development. However, previous studies did not consider the relationship between sulcal morphology and cognitive development in individual participants. Here, we fill this gap in knowledge by leveraging cross-sectional morphologic neuroimaging data in the lateral PFC (LPFC) from individual human participants (6-36 years old, males and females; N = 108; 3672 sulci), as well as longitudinal morphologic and behavioral data from a subset of child and adolescent participants scanned at two time points (6-18 years old; N = 44; 2992 sulci). Manually defining thousands of sulci revealed that LPFC sulcal morphology (depth, surface area, and gray matter thickness) differed between children (6-11 years old)/adolescents (11-18 years old) and young adults (22-36 years old) cross-sectionally, but only cortical thickness showed differences across childhood and adolescence and presented longitudinal changes during childhood and adolescence. Furthermore, a data-driven approach relating morphology and cognition identified that longitudinal changes in cortical thickness of four left-hemisphere LPFC sulci predicted longitudinal changes in reasoning performance, a higher-level cognitive ability that relies on LPFC. Contrary to previous findings, these results suggest that sulci may flatten either after this time frame or over a longer longitudinal period of time than previously presented. Crucially, these results also suggest that longitudinal changes in the cortex within specific LPFC sulci are behaviorally meaningful, providing targeted structures, and areas of the cortex, for future neuroimaging studies examining the development of cognitive abilities.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Recent work has shown that individual differences in neuroanatomical structures (indentations, or sulci) within the lateral PFC are behaviorally meaningful during childhood and adolescence. Here, we describe how specific lateral PFC sulci develop at the level of individual participants for the first time: from both cross-sectional and longitudinal perspectives. Further, we show, also for the first time, that the longitudinal morphologic changes in these structures are behaviorally relevant. These findings lay the foundation for a future avenue to precisely study the development of the cortex and highlight the importance of studying the development of sulci in other cortical expanses and charting how these changes relate to the cognitive abilities those areas support at the level of individual participants.

Keywords: lateral PFC; morphometry; neuroanatomy; neurodevelopment; neuroimaging; reasoning.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cerebral Cortex*
  • Child
  • Cognition*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging
  • Problem Solving
  • Young Adult