Adolescent offspring of schizophrenia patients (HR-S) are an important group in whom to study impaired brain function and structure, particularly of the frontal cortices. Studies of working memory have suggested behavioral deficits and fMRI-measured hypoactivity in fronto-parietal regions in these subjects. Independent structural MRI (sMRI) studies have suggested exaggerated frontal gray matter decline. Therefore the emergent view is that fronto-parietal deficits in function and structure characterize HR-S. However, it is unknown if fronto-parietal sub-regions in which fMRI-measured hypo-activity might be observed are precisely those regions of the cortex in which gray matter deficits are also observed. To investigate this question we conducted conjoint analyses of fronto-parietal function and structure in HR-S (n=19) and controls (n=24) with no family history of psychoses using fMRI data during a continuous working memory task (2 Back), and sMRI collected in the same session. HR-S demonstrated significantly reduced BOLD activation in left dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex (BA 9/46) and bilateral parietal cortex (BA 7/40). Sub-regions of interest were created from the significant fronto-parietal functional clusters. Analyses of gray matter volume from volume-modulated gray matter segments in these clusters did not reveal significant gray matter differences between groups. The results suggest that functional impairments in adolescent HR-S can be independent of impairments in structure, suggesting that the relationship between impaired function and structure is complex. Further studies will be needed to more closely assess whether impairments in function and structure provide independent or interacting pathways of vulnerability in this population.
Schizophrenia; Adolescent Offspring; Working Memory; Vulnerability; fMRI; Structural MRI
Non-psychotic individuals at increased risk for schizophrenia show alterations in fronto-striatal dopamine signaling and cortical gray matter maturation reminiscent of those seen in schizophrenia. It remains unclear however if variations in dopamine signaling influence rates of structural cortical maturation in typically developing individuals, and whether such influences are disrupted in patients with schizophrenia and their non-psychotic siblings. We sought to address these issues by relating a functional Val→Met polymorphism within the gene encoding catechol-o-methyltransferase (COMT)—a key enzymatic regulator of cortical dopamine levels—to longitudinal structural neuroimaging measures of cortical gray matter thickness. We included a total of 792 magnetic resonance imaging brain scans, acquired between ages 9 and 22 years from patients with childhood-onset schizophrenia (COS), their non-psychotic full siblings, and matched healthy controls. Whereas greater Val allele dose (which confers enhanced dopamine catabolism and is proposed to aggravate cortical deficits in schizophrenia) accelerated adolescent cortical thinning in both schizophrenia probands and their siblings, it attenuated cortical thinning in healthy controls. This similarity between COS patients and their siblings was accompanied by differences between the two groups in the timing and spatial distribution of disrupted COMT influences on cortical maturation. Consequently, whereas greater Val “dose” conferred persistent dorsolateral prefrontal cortical deficits amongst affected probands by adulthood, cortical thickness differences associated with varying Val dose in non-psychotic siblings resolved over the age-range studied. These findings suggest that cortical abnormalities in pedigrees affected by schizophrenia may be contributed to by a disruption of dopaminergic infleunces on cortical maturation.
Neuroimaging; COMT; Schizophrenia; Siblings; Cortex; Maturation; Dopamine
Over the past several decades, structural MRI studies have provided remarkable insights into human brain development by revealing the trajectory of gray and white matter maturation from childhood to adolescence and adulthood. In parallel, functional MRI studies have demonstrated changes in brain activation patterns accompanying cognitive development. Despite these advances, studying the maturation of functional brain networks underlying brain development continues to present unique scientific and methodological challenges. Resting-state fMRI (rsfMRI) has emerged as a novel method for investigating the development of large-scale functional brain networks in infants and young children. We review existing rsfMRI developmental studies and discuss how this method has begun to make significant contributions to our understanding of maturing brain organization. In particular, rsfMRI has been used to complement studies in other modalities investigating the emergence of functional segregation and integration across short and long-range connections spanning the entire brain. We show that rsfMRI studies help to clarify and reveal important principles of functional brain development, including a shift from diffuse to focal activation patterns, and simultaneous pruning of local connectivity and strengthening of long-range connectivity with age. The insights gained from these studies also shed light on potentially disrupted functional networks underlying atypical cognitive development associated with neurodevelopmental disorders. We conclude by identifying critical gaps in the current literature, discussing methodological issues, and suggesting avenues for future research.
functional connectivity; brain maturation; resting-state fMRI; cognitive development; autism spectrum disorders; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
When visual input has conflicting interpretations, conscious perception can alternate spontaneously between competing interpretations . There is a large amount of unexplained variability between individuals in the rate of such spontaneous alternations in perception [2–5]. We hypothesized that variability in perceptual rivalry might be reflected in individual differences in brain structure, because brain structure can exhibit systematic relationships with an individual's cognitive experiences and skills [6–9]. To test this notion, we examined in a large group of individuals how cortical thickness, local gray-matter density, and local white-matter integrity correlate with individuals' alternation rate for a bistable, rotating structure-from-motion stimulus . All of these macroscopic measures of brain structure consistently revealed that the structure of bilateral superior parietal lobes (SPL) could account for interindividual variability in perceptual alternation rate. Furthermore, we examined whether the bilateral SPL regions play a causal role in the rate of perceptual alternations by using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and found that transient disruption of these areas indeed decreases the rate of perceptual alternations. These findings demonstrate a direct relationship between structure of SPL and individuals' perceptual switch rate.
► Structure of superior parietal lobe (SPL) predicts switch rate in perceptual rivalry ► White-matter integrity in SPL correlates with individuals' switch rate ► Deactivation of SPL with transcranial magnetic stimulation slows perceptual rivalry
Recent data from developmental cognitive neuroscience highlight the profound changes in the organization and function of cortical networks during the transition from adolescence to adulthood. While previous studies have focused on the development of gray and white matter, recent evidence suggests that brain maturation during adolescence extends to fundamental changes in the properties of cortical circuits that in turn promote the precise temporal coding of neural activity. In the current article, we will highlight modifications in the amplitude and synchrony of neural oscillations during adolescence that may be crucial for the emergence of cognitive deficits and psychotic symptoms in schizophrenia. Specifically, we will suggest that schizophrenia is associated with impaired parameters of synchronous oscillations that undergo changes during late brain maturation, suggesting an important role of adolescent brain development for the understanding, treatment, and prevention of the disorder.
neural synchrony; adolescence; schizophrenia
Adolescence places high demands on inter-personal interactions and, hence, on the extraction and processing of social cues. Here we assess longitudinally the development of brain activity within a network implicated in social cognition—the action observation network. We performed activation likelihood estimation meta-analyses to define regions of interest based upon the mature action observation network of adults. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we then examined developmental trajectories of functional brain activity within these brain regions. Using this approach, we reveal quadratic trajectories within a fronto-parietal network previously shown to demonstrate correlated morphological development.
fMRI; development; adolescence; emotion; action observation
Classic theories of self-development suggest people define themselves in part through internalized perceptions of other people’s beliefs about them, known as reflected self-appraisals. This study uses functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare the neural correlates of direct and reflected self-appraisals in adolescence (N = 12, ages 11–14 years) and adulthood (N = 12, ages 23–30 years). During direct self-reflection, adolescents demonstrated greater activity than adults in networks relevant to self-perception (medial prefrontal and parietal cortices) and social-cognition (dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, temporal–parietal junction, and posterior superior temporal sulcus), suggesting adolescent self-construals may rely more heavily on others’ perspectives about the self. Activity in the medial fronto-parietal network was also enhanced when adolescents took the perspective of someone more relevant to a given domain.
A fundamental, yet rarely tested premise of developmental cognitive neuroscience is that changes in brain activity and improvements in behavioral control across adolescent development are related to brain maturational factors that shape a more efficient, highly-interconnected brain in adulthood. We present the first multimodal neuroimaging study to empirically demonstrate that maturation of executive cognitive ability is directly associated with the relationship of white matter development and age-related changes in neural network functional integration. In this study, we identified specific white matter regions whose maturation across adolescence appears to reduce reliance on local processing in brain regions recruited for conscious, deliberate cognitive control in favor of a more widely distributed profile of functionally-integrated brain activity. Greater white matter coherence with age was associated with both increases and decreases in functional connectivity within task-engaged functional circuits. Importantly, these associations between white matter development and brain system functional integration were related to behavioral performance on tests of response inhibition, demonstrating their importance in the maturation of optimal cognitive control.
CONNECTIVITY; DIFFUSION TENSOR IMAGING; NETWORK; RESPONSE INHIBITION; DEVELOPMENT; ADOLESCENT
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by an excessive focus on upsetting or disturbing thoughts, feelings, and images that are internally-generated. Internally-focused thought processes are subserved by the “default mode network" (DMN), which has been found to be hyperactive in OCD during cognitive tasks. In healthy individuals, disengagement from internally-focused thought processes may rely on interactions between DMN and a fronto-parietal network (FPN) associated with external attention and task execution. Altered connectivity between FPN and DMN may contribute to the dysfunctional behavior and brain activity found in OCD.
The current study examined interactions between FPN and DMN during rest in 30 patients with OCD (17 unmedicated) and 32 control subjects (17 unmedicated). Timecourses from seven fronto-parietal seeds were correlated across the whole brain and compared between groups.
OCD patients exhibited altered connectivity between FPN seeds (primarily anterior insula) and several regions of DMN including posterior cingulate cortex, medial frontal cortex, posterior inferior parietal lobule, and parahippocampus. These differences were driven largely by a reduction of negative correlations among patients compared to controls. Patients also showed greater positive connectivity between FPN and regions outside DMN, including thalamus, lateral frontal cortex, and somatosensory/motor regions.
OCD is associated with abnormal intrinsic functional connectivity between large-scale brain networks. Alteration of interactions between FPN and DMN at rest may contribute to aspects of the OCD phenotype, such as patients' inability to disengage from internally-generated scenarios and thoughts when performing everyday tasks requiring external attention.
Cerebral microangiopathy (CMA) has been associated with executive dysfunction and fronto-parietal neural network disruption. Advances in magnetic resonance imaging allow more detailed analyses of gray (e.g., voxel-based morphometry—VBM) and white matter (e.g., diffusion tensor imaging—DTI) than traditional visual rating scales. The current study investigated patients with early CMA and healthy control subjects with all three approaches. Neuropsychological assessment focused on executive functions, the cognitive domain most discussed in CMA. The DTI and age-related white matter changes rating scales revealed convergent results showing widespread white matter changes in early CMA. Correlations were found in frontal and parietal areas exclusively with speeded, but not with speed-corrected executive measures. The VBM analyses showed reduced gray matter in frontal areas. All three approaches confirmed the hypothesized fronto-parietal network disruption in early CMA. Innovative methods (DTI) converged with results from conventional methods (visual rating) while allowing greater spatial and tissue accuracy. They are thus valid additions to the analysis of neural correlates of cognitive dysfunction. We found a clear distinction between speeded and nonspeeded executive measures in relationship to imaging parameters. Cognitive slowing is related to disease severity in early CMA and therefore important for early diagnostics.
cerebrovascular disease; diffusion tensor imaging; MRI; vascular cognitive impairment; white matter disease
Structural magnetic resonance imaging data from 308 twins, 64 singleton siblings of twins, and 228 singletons were analyzed using structural equation modeling and selected multivariate methods to identify genetically mediated intracortical associations. Principal components analyses (PCA) of the genetic correlation matrix indicated a single factor accounting for over 60% of the genetic variability in cortical thickness. When covaried for mean global cortical thickness, PCA, cluster analyses, and graph models identified genetically mediated fronto-parietal and occipital networks. Graph theoretical models suggest that the observed genetically mediated relationships follow small world architectural rules. These findings are largely concordant with other multivariate studies of brain structure and function, the twin literature, and current understanding on the role of genes in cortical neurodevelopment.
child development; genetics; neuroanatomy; small world
High-frequency cortical activity in humans and animals has been linked to a wide variety of higher cognitive processes. This research suggests that specific changes in neuronal synchrony occur during cognitive processing, distinguished by emergence of fast oscillations in the gamma frequency range. To determine whether the development of high-frequency brain oscillations can be related to the development of cognitive abilities, we studied the power spectra of resting EEG in children 16, 24 and 36 months of age. Individual differences in the distribution of frontal gamma power during rest were highly correlated with concurrent language and cognitive skills at all ages. Gamma power was also associated with attention measures; children who were observed as having better inhibitory control and more mature attention shifting abilities had higher gamma power density functions. We included a group of children with a family history of language impairment (FH+) and thus at higher risk for language disorders. FH+ children, as a group, showed consistently lower gamma over frontal regions than the well-matched FH- controls with no such family history (FH-). We suggest that the emergence of high frequency neural synchrony may be critical for cognitive and linguistic development, and that children at risk for language impairments may lag in this process.
language; cognitive development; resting EEG; gamma power; attention
A recent paradigm shift in systems neuroscience is the division of the human brain into functional networks. Functional networks are collections of brain regions with strongly correlated activity both at rest and during cognitive tasks, and each network is believed to implement a different aspect of cognition. Here, we propose that anxiety disorders and high trait anxiety are associated with a particular pattern of functional network dysfunction: increased functioning of the cingulo-opercular and ventral attention networks as well as decreased functioning of the fronto-parietal and default mode networks. This functional network model can be used to differentiate the pathology of anxiety disorders from other psychiatric illnesses such as major depression and provides targets for novel treatment strategies.
Anxiety; Anxiety Disorder; Brain Network; Functional Network; fMRI
Spasmodic dysphonia (SD) is a primary focal dystonia characterized by involuntary spasms in the laryngeal muscles during speech production. Although recent studies have found abnormal brain function and white matter organization in SD, the extent of gray matter alterations, their structure–function relationships, and correlations with symptoms remain unknown. We compared gray matter volume (GMV) and cortical thickness (CT) in 40 SD patients and 40 controls using voxel-based morphometry and cortical distance estimates. These measures were examined for relationships with blood oxygen level–dependent signal change during symptomatic syllable production in 15 of the same patients. SD patients had increased GMV, CT, and brain activation in key structures of the speech control system, including the laryngeal sensorimotor cortex, inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), superior/middle temporal and supramarginal gyri, and in a structure commonly abnormal in other primary dystonias, the cerebellum. Among these regions, GMV, CT and activation of the IFG and cerebellum showed positive relationships with SD severity, while CT of the IFG correlated with SD duration. The left anterior insula was the only region with decreased CT, which also correlated with SD symptom severity. These findings provide evidence for coupling between structural and functional abnormalities at different levels within the speech production system in SD.
cortical thickness; fMRI; laryngeal dystonia; VBM; voice production
The default network is a set of brain regions that exhibit a reduction in BOLD response during attention-demanding cognitive tasks, and distinctive patterns of functional connectivity that typically include anti-correlations with a fronto-parietal network involved in attention, working memory, and executive control. The function of the default network regions has been attributed to introspection, self-awareness, and theory of mind judgments, and some of its regions are involved in episodic memory processes.
Using the method of psycho-physiological interactions, we studied the functional connectivity of several regions in a fronto-parietal network involved in a paired image discrimination task involving transitive inference. Some image pairs were derived from an implicit underlying sequence A>B>C>D>E, and some were independent (F>G, H>J, etc). Functional connectivity between the fronto-parietal regions and the default network regions depended on the presence of the underlying sequence relating the images. When subjects viewed learned and novel pairs from the sequence, connectivity between these two networks was higher than when subjects viewed learned and novel pairs from the independent sets.
These results suggest that default network regions were involved in maintaining the internal model that subserved discrimination of image pairs derived from the implicit sequence, and contributed to introspective access of an internal sequence model built during training. The default network may not be a unified entity with a specific function, but rather may interact with other functional networks in task-dependent ways.
Functional imaging research has identified fronto-parietal attention networks involved in visual search, with mixed evidence regarding whether different networks are engaged when the search target differs from distracters by a single (elementary) versus multiple (conjunction) features. Neural correlates of visual search, and their potential dissociation, were examined here using integrity of white matter connecting the fronto-parietal networks. The effect of aging on these brain-behavior relationships was also of interest. Younger and older adults performed a visual search task and underwent diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to reconstruct two fronto-parietal (superior and inferior longitudinal fasciculus, SLF and ILF) and two midline (genu, splenium) white matter tracts. As expected, results revealed age-related declines in conjunction, but not elementary, search performance; and in ILF and genu tract integrity. Importantly, integrity of the SLF, ILF, and genu tracts predicted search performance (conjunction and elementary), with no significant age group differences in these relationships. Thus, integrity of white matter tracts connecting fronto-parietal attention networks contributes to search performance in younger and older adults.
Tourette syndrome (TS) is a developmental disorder characterized by unwanted, repetitive behaviours that manifest as stereotyped movements and vocalizations called ‘tics’. Operating under the hypothesis that the brain's control systems may be impaired in TS, we measured resting-state functional connectivity MRI (rs-fcMRI) between 39 previously defined putative control regions in 33 adolescents with TS. We were particularly interested in the effect of TS on two of the brain's task control networks—a fronto-parietal network likely involved in more rapid, adaptive online control, and a cingulo-opercular network apparently important for set-maintenance. To examine the relative maturity of connections in the Tourette subjects, functional connections that changed significantly over typical development were examined. Age curves were created for each functional connection charting correlation coefficients over age for 210 healthy people aged 7–31 years, and the TS group correlation coefficients were compared to these curves. Many of these connections were significantly less ‘mature’ than expected in the TS group. This immaturity was true not only for functional connections that grow stronger with age, but also for those that diminish in strength with age. To explore other differences between Tourette and typically developing subjects further, we performed a second analysis in which the TS group was directly compared to an age-matched, movement-matched group of typically developing, unaffected adolescents. A number of functional connections were found to differ between the two groups. For these identified connections, a large number of connectional differences were found where the TS group value was out of range compared to typical developmental age curves. These anomalous connections were primarily found in the fronto-parietal network, thought to be important for online adaptive control. These results suggest that in adolescents with TS, immature functional connectivity is widespread, with additional, more profound deviation of connectivity in regions related to adaptive online control.
Tourette syndrome; functional connectivity; attentional control; adolescence; cognitive development
During sustained periods of a taxing cognitive workload, humans typically display time-on-task (TOT) effects, in which performance gets steadily worse over the period of task engagement. Arterial spin labeling (ASL) perfusion functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used in this study to investigate the neural correlates of TOT effects in a group of 15 subjects as they performed a 20-minute continuous psychomotor vigilance test (PVT). Subjects displayed significant TOT effects, as seen in progressively slower reaction times and significantly increased mental fatigue ratings after the task. Perfusion data showed that the PVT activates a right lateralized fronto-parietal attentional network in addition to the basal ganglia and sensorimotor cortices. The fronto-parietal network was less active during post-task rest compared to pre-task rest, and regional CBF decrease in this network correlated with performance decline. These results demonstrate the persistent effects of cognitive fatigue in the fronto-parietal network after a period of heavy mental work and indicate the critical role of this attentional network in mediating TOT effects. Furthermore, resting regional CBF in the thalamus and right middle frontal gyrus prior to task onset was predictive of subjects' subsequent performance decline, suggesting that resting CBF quantified by ASL perfusion fMRI may be a useful indicator of performance potential and a marker of the level of fatigue in the neural attentional system.
Time-on-task effect; psychomotor vigilance test; ASL perfusion fMRI; fronto-parietal network
We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore the patterns of brain activation associated with different levels of performance in exact and approximate calculation tasks in well defined cohorts of children with mathematical calculation difficulties (MD) and typically developing controls. Both groups of children activated the same network of brain regions; however, children in the MD group had significantly increased activation in parietal, frontal, and cingulate cortices during both calculation tasks. A majority of the differences occurred in anatomical brain regions associated with cognitive resources such as executive functioning and working memory that are known to support higher level arithmetic skill but are not specific to mathematical processing. We propose that these findings are evidence that children with MD use the same types of problem solving strategies as TD children, but their weak mathematical processing system causes them to employ a more developmentally immature and less efficient form of the strategies.
arithmetic; development; mathematical skill; numerical processing; school-age; mathematical disability
Periventricular nodular heterotopia (PNH) is a brain malformation clinically characterized by the triad of epilepsy, normal intelligence, and dyslexia. We investigated the structure-function relationship between cerebral volumes and cognitive ability in this disorder by studying twelve PNH subjects and six controls using volumetric analysis of high-resolution anatomical MRI and neuropsychological testing. Total cerebral volumes and specific brain compartment volumes (gray matter, white matter, and CSF) in PNH subjects were comparable to those in controls. There was a negative correlation between heterotopic gray matter volume and cortical gray matter volume. Cerebral and cortical volumes in PNH did not correlate with full-scale IQ, unlike in normal individuals. Our findings support the idea that heterotopic nodules contain misplaced neurons that would normally have migrated to the cortex, and suggest that structural correlates of normal cognitive ability may be different in the setting of neuronal migration failure.
Periventricular nodular heterotopia; malformation of cortical development; volumetric MRI; intelligence
Control of thought and behavior is fundamental to human intelligence. Evidence suggests a fronto-parietal brain network implements such cognitive control across diverse contexts. We identify a mechanism – global connectivity – by which components of this network might coordinate control of other networks. A lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) region’s activity was found to predict performance in a high control demand working memory task, and also to exhibit high global connectivity. Critically, global connectivity in this LPFC region, involving connections both within and outside the fronto-parietal network, showed a highly selective relationship with individual differences in fluid intelligence. These findings suggest LPFC is a global hub with a brain-wide influence that facilitates the ability to implement control processes central to human intelligence.
prefrontal cortex; global connectivity; cognitive control; graph theory; functional connectivity; intelligence; fluid reasoning
Magnetic resonance imaging studies have begun to map effects of genetic variation on trajectories of brain development. Longitudinal studies of children and adolescents demonstrate a general pattern of childhood peaks of gray matter followed by adolescent declines, functional and structural increases in connectivity and integrative processing, and a changing balance between limbic/subcortical and frontal lobe functions, which extends well into young adulthood. Twin studies have demonstrated that genetic factors are responsible for a significant amount of variation in pediatric brain morphometry. Longitudinal studies have shown specific genetic polymorphisms affect rates of cortical changes associated with maturation. Although over-interpretation and premature application of neuroimaging findings for diagnostic purposes remains a risk, converging data from multiple imaging modalities is beginning to elucidate the influences of genetic factors on brain development and implications of maturational changes for cognition, emotion, and behavior.
Magnetic resonance imaging; Brain; Development; Genes; Twins
To review the maturational events that occur during prenatal and postnatal brain development and to present neuroimaging findings from studies of healthy individuals that identify the trajectories of normal brain development.
Histological and postmortem findings of early brain development are presented, followed by a discussion of anatomical, diffusion tensor, proton spectroscopy, and functional imaging findings from studies of healthy individuals, with special emphasis on longitudinal data.
Early brain development occurs through a sequence of major events, beginning with the formation of the neural tube and ending with myelination. Brain development at a macroscopic level typically proceeds first in sensorimotor areas, spreading subsequently and progressively into dorsal and parietal, superior temporal, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices throughout later childhood and adolescence. These patterns of anatomical development parallel increasing activity in frontal cortices that subserves the development of higher-order cognitive functions during late childhood and adolescence. Disturbances in these developmental patterns seem to be involved centrally in the pathogenesis of various childhood psychiatric disorders including childhood-onset schizophrenia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, developmental dyslexia, Tourette’s syndrome, and bipolar disorder.
Advances in imaging techniques have enhanced our understanding of normal developmental trajectories in the brain, which may improve insight into the abnormal patterns of development in various childhood psychiatric disorders.
normal brain development; neuroimaging; functional neuroimaging; cognitive development
Dynamic changes in neurochemistry, fiber architecture, and tissue composition occur in the adolescent brain. The course of these maturational processes is being charted with greater specificity, owing to advances in neuroimaging and indicate grey matter volume reductions and protracted development of white matter in regions known to support complex cognition and behavior. Though fronto-subcortical circuitry development is notable during adolescence, asynchronous maturation of prefrontal and limbic systems may render youth more vulnerable to risky behaviors such as substance use. Indeed, binge-pattern alcohol consumption and comorbid marijuana use are common among adolescents, and are associated with neural consequences. This review summarizes the unique characteristics of adolescent brain development, particularly aspects that predispose individuals to reward seeking and risky choices during this phase of life, and discusses the influence of substance use on neuromaturation. Together, findings in this arena underscore the importance of refined research and programming efforts in adolescent health and interventional needs.
Adolescence; Substance use; Alcohol; Marijuana; Risk taking; Neuromaturation
Patterns of correlated activity among brain regions reflect functionally relevant networks that are widely assumed to be stable over time. We hypothesized that if these correlations reflect the prior history of co-activation of brain regions, then a marked shift in cognition could alter the strength of coupling between these regions. We sought to test whether intensive reasoning training in humans would result in tighter coupling among regions in the lateral fronto-parietal network, as measured with resting-state fMRI (rs-fMRI). Rather than designing an artificial training program, we studied individuals who were preparing for a standardized test that places heavy demands on relational reasoning, the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). LSAT questions require test-takers to group or sequence items according to a set of complex rules. We recruited young adults who were enrolled in an LSAT course that offers 70 hours of reasoning instruction (n=25), and age- and IQ-matched controls intending to take the LSAT in the future (n=24). Rs-fMRI data were collected for all subjects during two scanning sessions separated by 90 days. An analysis of pairwise correlations between brain regions implicated in reasoning showed that fronto-parietal connections were strengthened, along with parietal-striatal connections. These findings provide strong evidence for neural plasticity at the level of large-scale networks supporting high-level cognition.