Age-related functional brain changes in young children

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Abstract

Brain function and structure change significantly during the toddler and preschool years. However, most studies focus on older or younger children, so the specific nature of these changes is unclear. In the present study, we analyzed 77 functional magnetic resonance imaging datasets from 44 children aged 2–6 years. We extracted measures of both local (amplitude of low frequency fluctuation and regional homogeneity) and global (eigenvector centrality mapping) activity and connectivity, and examined their relationships with age using robust linear correlation analysis and strict control for head motion. Brain areas within the default mode network and the frontoparietal network, such as the middle frontal gyrus, the inferior parietal lobule and the posterior cingulate cortex, showed increases in local and global functional features with age. Several brain areas such as the superior parietal lobule and superior temporal gyrus presented opposite development trajectories of local and global functional features, suggesting a shifting connectivity framework in early childhood. This development of functional connectivity in early childhood likely underlies major advances in cognitive abilities, including language and development of theory of mind. These findings provide important insight into the development patterns of brain function during the preschool years, and lay the foundation for future studies of altered brain development in young children with brain disorders or injury.

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