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Human Brain Networks Developing in Adolescence Related to Evolutionary Expansion

Summary: According to a new study, adolescence may be a crucial period for remodeling of the human brain.

Source: Penn Medicine.

Penn study uses data from study of brain development to offer new opportunities for research into prevention of psychiatric illness.

Adolescence marks not only the period of physical maturation bridging childhood and adulthood, but also a crucial period for remodeling of the human brain. A Penn study reveals new patterns of coordinated development in the outer layer of the cerebrum of the human brain and describes how these structural patterns relate to functional networks.

The team found the convergence between structural and functional networks was inversely related to functional complexity. Motor, sensory, visual and functional networks aligned to distinct structural networks. This unique representation of brain maturation may open new opportunities for future studies into many psychiatric disorders that might begin during this age. A team from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania publishes the findings this week in PNAS.

Brain remodeling during adolescence supports the tuning of behavior and cognitive abilities, including reasoning, coordination, decision making, motivation, and regulation of emotions. Measuring these brain parameters during development is valuable for understanding both normal brain maturation and abnormalities associated with behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. In contrast to the small sample sizes in this subject area’s previous research, this cohort of 934 youths ages 8-22 from the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort, a collaboration between Penn Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (led by Raquel E. Gur, MD, PhD, a professor of Psychiatry) offers the opportunity to evaluate these complex patterns of brain development.

Many previous studies have examined the structure and function of the brain, but there has been a gap between brain imaging studies and the biological processes that drive the development of brain networks. This team took high-dimensional, complex data that would otherwise be tough to understand – and boiled it down to a limited number of developing structural brain networks (18 in total).

“In an era of big, complex data, it’s sometimes difficult to see what’s going on,” said Christos Davatzikos, PhD, professor of Radiology, and senior author on the paper. “So you look at this data and think there may be some relationships, but our brain and visual interpretation can only go so far. Now we have powerful multivariate methods that can put all the data together and see deeper what’s behind it, and find patterns never seen before.”

To look deeper into these patterns of brain development, the team used a sophisticated technique called non-negative matrix factorization, to simultaneously analyze complex patterns of brain structure and identify patterns of development in adolescence. Unlike previous brain representations that relied on patterns of ridges and folds on the surface of the brain, called gyri and sulci, the team looked at how elements change together in a coordinated fashion. This approach revealed a set of structural brain networks that have clear functional and evolutionary significance. Indeed, the degree to which these structural networks change in adolescence is related to the rate of evolution, as measured by the expansion of the cortical areas, from the brain of a monkey.

“The most plastic parts of the brain that change during adolescence are also those that make us most human,” said Theodore D. Satterthwaite, MD, assistant professor of Psychiatry and equally contributing senior author on the paper. “Without this method, we couldn’t see these coordinated patterns of change.”

Image shows a brain network.

Many previous studies have examined the structure and function of the brain, but there has been a gap between brain imaging studies and the biological processes that drive the development of brain networks. This team took high-dimensional, complex data that would otherwise be tough to understand – and boiled it down to a limited number of developing structural brain networks (18 in total). NeuroscienceNews.com image is for illustrative purposes only.

“Looking at the brain in a data-driven way, we see systematic relationships between certain regions,” said Aristeidis Sotiras, PhD, a research associate and first author on the paper. “This allows us to identify the moving parts of the brain, which opens new avenues for research into an individual’s risk for developing specific diseases based on understanding how these parts get broken during adolescence.”

Similar to the use of height and weight growth charts in pediatrics, looking at which brain regions change significantly compared to a normal development baseline, could show how vulnerable someone is to a specific disorder. Deviations of processes that drive development and affect structural networks could lead to psychiatric disorders. Next, the team hopes to study the association between clinical symptoms and specific brain patterns.

About this evolutionary neuroscience research article

Co-authors include Jon B. Toledo, Raquel E. Gur, and Ruben C. Gur, all from Penn.

Funding: This work was funded in part by National Institute of Mental Health Grants MH107235, MH089983, MH089924, MH096891, MH101111, and MH107703; National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering Grant EB022573; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Grant NS042645; and the Dowshen Program for Neuroscience.

Source: Greg Richter – Penn Medicine
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “Patterns of coordinated cortical remodeling during adolescence and their associations with functional specialization and evolutionary expansion” by Aristeidis Sotiras, Jon B. Toledo, Raquel E. Gur, Ruben C. Gur, Theodore D. Satterthwaite, and Christos Davatzikos in PNAS. Published online March 13 2017 doi:10.1073/pnas.1620928114

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
Penn Medicine “Human Brain Networks Developing in Adolescence Related to Evolutionary Expansion.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 20 March 2017.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/evolution-developing-brain-networks-6261/>.
Penn Medicine (2017, March 20). Human Brain Networks Developing in Adolescence Related to Evolutionary Expansion. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved March 20, 2017 from http://neurosciencenews.com/evolution-developing-brain-networks-6261/
Penn Medicine “Human Brain Networks Developing in Adolescence Related to Evolutionary Expansion.” http://neurosciencenews.com/evolution-developing-brain-networks-6261/ (accessed March 20, 2017).

Abstract

Patterns of coordinated cortical remodeling during adolescence and their associations with functional specialization and evolutionary expansion

During adolescence, the human cortex undergoes substantial remodeling to support a rapid expansion of behavioral repertoire. Accurately quantifying these changes is a prerequisite for understanding normal brain development, as well as the neuropsychiatric disorders that emerge in this vulnerable period. Past accounts have demonstrated substantial regional heterogeneity in patterns of brain development, but frequently have been limited by small samples and analytics that do not evaluate complex multivariate imaging patterns. Capitalizing on recent advances in multivariate analysis methods, we used nonnegative matrix factorization (NMF) to uncover coordinated patterns of cortical development in a sample of 934 youths ages 8–20, who completed structural neuroimaging as part of the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort. Patterns of structural covariance (PSCs) derived by NMF were highly reproducible over a range of resolutions, and differed markedly from common gyral-based structural atlases. Moreover, PSCs were largely symmetric and showed correspondence to specific large-scale functional networks. The level of correspondence was ordered according to their functional role and position in the evolutionary hierarchy, being high in lower-order visual and somatomotor networks and diminishing in higher-order association cortex. Furthermore, PSCs showed divergent developmental associations, with PSCs in higher-order association cortex networks showing greater changes with age than primary somatomotor and visual networks. Critically, such developmental changes within PSCs were significantly associated with the degree of evolutionary cortical expansion. Together, our findings delineate a set of structural brain networks that undergo coordinated cortical thinning during adolescence, which is in part governed by evolutionary novelty and functional specialization.

“Patterns of coordinated cortical remodeling during adolescence and their associations with functional specialization and evolutionary expansion” by Aristeidis Sotiras, Jon B. Toledo, Raquel E. Gur, Ruben C. Gur, Theodore D. Satterthwaite, and Christos Davatzikos in PNAS. Published online March 13 2017 doi:10.1073/pnas.1620928114

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