Girls' pubertal development is associated with white matter microstructure in late adolescence


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Abstract

Patterns of pubertal maturation have been linked to vulnerability for emotion dysregulation disorders in girls, as well as white matter (WM) development, suggestive of a potential mechanism between pubertal maturation and emotional health. Because pubertal processes begin at varying ages (i.e., status, timing) and proceed at varying rates (i.e., tempo), identifying individual differences in the pubertal course associated with subsequent WM microstructure development may reveal clues about neurobiological mechanisms of girls' emotional well-being. In a prospective cohort study of 107 girls, we examined associations between pubertal status at age 9, pubertal timing and tempo from ages 9–15, and WM microstructure at age 19. Tract-based spatial statistics revealed that girls with more advanced pubertal status at age 9, specific to gonadal-related physical changes, had higher fractional anisotropy, and lower mean diffusivity (MD) and radial diffusivity in tracts relevant to cognitive control and emotion regulation (e.g., the superior longitudinal fasciculus, external capsule, and uncinate fasciculus). Additionally, girls with earlier pubertal timing showed lower MD in the left anterior cingulum bundle. Tempo was unrelated to WM measures. These findings implicate specific aspects of pubertal maturation in subsequent neural signatures, suggesting possible neuroendocrine mechanisms relevant to emotional development. Future work incorporating longitudinal neuroimaging in parallel with pubertal measures may contribute to the understanding of individual variation in pubertal course and WM development.HIGHLIGHTS:Girls’ pubertal status (age 9) relates to white matter microstructure (age 19).More advanced gonadal status associates with higher fractional anisotropy.Pubertal tempo is not associated with white matter variation at age 19.Girls with earlier pubertal timing show lower mean diffusivity in the cingulum.

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