Brain development and aging: Overlapping and unique patterns of change

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Abstract

Early-life development is characterized by dramatic changes, impacting lifespan function more than changes in any other period. Developmental origins of neurocognitive late-life functions are acknowledged, but detailed longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging studies of brain maturation and direct comparisons with aging are lacking. To these aims, a novel method was used to measure longitudinal volume changes in development (n = 85, 8–22 years) and aging (n = 142, 60–91 years). Developmental reductions exceeded 1% annually in much of the cortex, more than double to that seen in aging, with a posterior-to-anterior gradient. Cortical reductions were greater than the subcortical during development, while the opposite held in aging. The pattern of lateral cortical changes was similar across development and aging, but the pronounced medial temporal reduction in aging was not precast in development. Converging patterns of change in adolescents and elderly, particularly in the medial prefrontal areas, suggest that late developed cortices are especially vulnerable to atrophy in aging. A key question in future research will be to disentangle the neurobiological underpinnings for the differences and the similarities between brain changes in development and aging.

Highlights

▸ Novel method used to characterize brain changes in development and aging ▸ Annual developmental reductions > 1% in the cortex, more than double that in aging ▸ Cortical development characterized by a posterior-to-anterior age-gradient ▸ A mixture of overlapping and unique patterns of change in maturation and senescence

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