Selective increase in posterior corpus callosum thickness between the age of 4 and 11 years

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Establishing an efficient functional and structural connectivity between the two cerebral hemispheres is an important developmental task during childhood, and alterations in this development have accordingly been linked to a series of neurodevelopmental and pediatric disorders. The corpus callosum, the major white-matter structure connecting the hemispheres, has been shown to increase in size throughout the three first decades of life. However, behavioral studies indicate that adult-like performance levels of functional hemispheric interaction are already reached during middle and late childhood. Thus, here we specifically examine the structural development of the corpus callosum during the functionally relevant time period by for the first time (a) selectively addressing prospective childhood development and (b) analyzing a sample in which also younger children are well represented. Corpus callosum anatomy was assessed from 732 T1-weighted MRI datasets acquired from 428 children (213 boys, 215 girls) aged of 4.1 and 10.9 years, of which 304 were scanned at two time points. Regional callosal thickness was determined from an outline-based segmentation of the mid-sagittal cross-sectional surface area. Linear-mixed model analyses revealed a significant increase in thickness with age (effect size: up to 15% explained variance) equivalent to a growth in callosal thickness of up to 0.19 mm per year in the posterior corpus callosum. The age effect was found to be stronger in posterior segments (i.e., splenium) than in other callosal subregions. Also, the age effect was found to be comparable between boys and girls, and was detected irrespective of whether developmental or individual differences in overall brain size where accounted for or not. Our results demonstrate a selective increase in posterior corpus-callosum thickness during middle and late childhood. Since axons crossing the midline in the splenium mainly connect occipital and parietal cortices, the accentuated posterior growth might reflect the onset of a posterior-to-anterior moving maturation wave in cortical development known to take place in the same time period.

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