Dissociations in Cortical Morphometry in Youth with Down Syndrome: Evidence for Reduced Surface Area but Increased Thickness

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Detailed descriptions of cortical anatomy in youth with Down syndrome (DS), the most common genetic cause of intellectual disability (ID), are scant. Thus, the current study examined deviations in cortical thickness (CT) and surface area (SA), at high spatial resolution, in youth with DS, to identify focal differences relative to typically developing (TD) youth. Participants included 31 youth with DS and 45 age- and sex-matched TD controls (mean age ∼16 years; range = 5–24 years). All participants completed T1-weighted ASSET-calibrated magnetization prepared rapid gradient echo scans on a 3-T magnetic resonance imaging scanner. Replicating prior investigations, cortical volume was reduced in DS compared with controls. However, a novel dissociation for SA and CT was found—namely, SA was reduced (predominantly in frontal and temporal regions) while CT was increased (notably in several regions thought to belong to the default mode network; DMN). These findings suggest that reductions in SA rather than CT are driving the cortical volume reductions reported in prior investigations of DS. Moreover, given the link between DMN functionality and Alzheimer's symptomatology in chromosomally typical populations, future DS studies may benefit from focusing on the cortex in DMN regions, as such investigations may provide clues to the precocious onset of Alzheimer's disease in this at-risk group.

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