Quantifying cortical development in typically developing toddlers and young children, 1–6 years of age

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Abstract

Cortical maturation, including age-related changes in thickness, volume, surface area, and folding (gyrification), play a central role in developing brain function and plasticity. Further, abnormal cortical maturation is a suspected substrate in various behavioral, intellectual, and psychiatric disorders. However, in order to characterize the altered development associated with these disorders, appreciation of the normative patterns of cortical development in neurotypical children between 1 and 6 years of age, a period of peak brain development during which many behavioral and developmental disorders emerge, is necessary. To this end, we examined measures of cortical thickness, surface area, mean curvature, and gray matter volume across 34 bilateral regions in a cohort of 140 healthy children devoid of major risk factors for abnormal development. From these data, we observed linear, logarithmic, and quadratic patterns of change with age depending on brain region. Cortical thinning, ranging from 10% to 20%, was observed throughout most of the brain, with the exception of posterior brain structures, which showed initial cortical thinning from 1 to 5 years, followed by thickening. Cortical surface area expansion ranged from 20% to 108%, and cortical curvature varied by 1–20% across the investigated age range. Right-left hemisphere asymmetry was observed across development for each of the 4 cortical measures. Our results present new insight into the normative patterns of cortical development across an important but under studied developmental window, and provide a valuable reference to which trajectories observed in neurodevelopmental disorders may be compared.

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