Myelination and organization of the frontal white matter in children: a diffusion tensor MRI study

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MYELINATION is critical for the functional development of the brain, but the time course of myelination during childhood is not well known. Diffusion tensor MR imaging (DTI) provides a new method for estimating myelination in vivo. Myelin restricts diffusion of water transverse to the axons, causing diffusion to be anisotropic. By quantifying the anisotropy, the progressive myelination of axons can be studied. Central white matter of the frontal lobe was studied in seven children (mean age 10 years) and five adults (mean age 27 years). Anisotropy in the frontal white matter was significantly lower in children than in adults, suggesting less myelination in children. Measurement of the coherence of white matter revealed that the right frontal lobe had a more regular organization of axons than the left frontal lobe, in both children and adults. The results demonstrate that maturation of the frontal white matter continues into the second decade of life. The time course of prefrontal maturation makes it possible that myelination is a basis for the gradual development of prefrontal functions, such as increased working memory capacity.

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