White matter structure in the brain predicts cognitive function at ages 1 and 2

December 19, 2016

CHAPEL HILL, NC - A new study led by UNC School of Medicine researchers concluded that patterns of white matter microstructure present at birth and that develop after birth predict the cognitive function of children at ages 1 and 2.

"To our knowledge, this study is the first to measure and describe the development of white matter microstructure in children and its relationship to cognitive development from the time they are born until the age of 2 years," said John H. Gilmore, MD, senior author of the study and director of the Early Brain Development Program in the UNC Department of Psychiatry.

The study was published online on December 19, 2016 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

White matter is the tissue in the brain that contains axon fibers, which connect neurons in one brain region to neurons in another region. White matter is critical for normal brain function, and little is known about how white matter develops in humans or how it is related to growth of cognitive skills in early childhood, including language development. In the study, a total of 685 children received diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scans of their brains. DTI is a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique that provides a description of the diffusion of water through tissue, and can be used to identify white matter tracts in the brain and describe the organization and maturation of the tracts.

The study authors used these brain scans to investigate the microstructure of 12 white matter fiber tracts important for cognitive function, their relationship to developing cognitive function and their heritability. They found all 12 of the fiber tracts in the newborns were highly related to each other. By age 1, these fiber tracts had begun to differentiate themselves from each other, and by age 2 this differentiation was further advanced. The most interesting finding from the study was that the common relationship between white matter tracts at birth predicted overall cognitive development at age 1 and language development at age 2, indicating that it may be possible to use brain imaging at birth to better understand how a child's cognitive development will proceed in the first years after birth.

Because the sample included 429 twins, the study authors were also able to calculate that this predictive trait was moderately heritable, suggesting that genetics may be a factor in its development.

"There is rapid growth of brain structure, cognition and behavior in early childhood, and we are just starting to understand how they are related," Gilmore said "With a better understanding of these relationships, we ultimately hope to be able to identify children at risk for cognitive problems or psychiatric disorders very early and come up with interventions that can help the brain develop in a way to improve function and reduce risk."

In addition to Gilmore, authors of the study are Seung Jae Lee, Rachel J. Steiner, Yang Yu, Sarah J. Short, Michael C. Neale, Martin Styner, and Hongtu Zhu. All are at UNC except for Neale, who is in the Virginia Institute of Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University.
-end-
This study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH064065, MH 070890, RR025747 and MH086633), National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD053000) and the National Science Foundation (SES-1357666).

University of North Carolina Health Care

Related Brain Articles from Brightsurf:

Glioblastoma nanomedicine crosses into brain in mice, eradicates recurring brain cancer
A new synthetic protein nanoparticle capable of slipping past the nearly impermeable blood-brain barrier in mice could deliver cancer-killing drugs directly to malignant brain tumors, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

Children with asymptomatic brain bleeds as newborns show normal brain development at age 2
A study by UNC researchers finds that neurodevelopmental scores and gray matter volumes at age two years did not differ between children who had MRI-confirmed asymptomatic subdural hemorrhages when they were neonates, compared to children with no history of subdural hemorrhage.

New model of human brain 'conversations' could inform research on brain disease, cognition
A team of Indiana University neuroscientists has built a new model of human brain networks that sheds light on how the brain functions.

Human brain size gene triggers bigger brain in monkeys
Dresden and Japanese researchers show that a human-specific gene causes a larger neocortex in the common marmoset, a non-human primate.

Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.

An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.

Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.

Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.

Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.

Read More: Brain News and Brain Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.