Protracted Development of the Proprioceptive Brain Network During and Beyond Adolescence

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Proprioceptive processing is important for appropriate motor control, providing error-feedback and internal representation of movement for adjusting the motor command. Although proprioceptive functioning improves during childhood and adolescence, we still have few clues about how the proprioceptive brain network develops. Here, we investigated developmental changes in the functional organization of this network in early adolescents (n = 18, 12 ± 1 years), late adolescents (n = 18, 15 ± 1), and young adults (n = 18, 32 ± 4), by examining task-evoked univariate activity and patterns of functional connectivity (FC) associated with seeds placed in cortical (supramarginal gyrus) and subcortical (dorsal rostral putamen) regions. We found that although the network is already well established in early adolescence both in terms of topology and functioning principles (e.g., long-distance communication and economy in wiring cost), it is still undergoing refinement during adolescence, including a shift from diffuse to focal FC and a decreased FC strength. This developmental effect was particularly pronounced for fronto-striatal connections. Furthermore, changes in FC features continued beyond adolescence, although to a much lower extent. Altogether, these findings point to a protracted developmental time course for the proprioceptive network, which breaks with the relatively early functional maturation often associated with sensorimotor networks.

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