Longitudinal changes in grey and white matter during adolescence.
Giorgio A., Watkins KE., Chadwick M., James S., Winmill L., Douaud G., De Stefano N., Matthews PM., Smith SM., Johansen-Berg H., James AC.
Brain development continues actively during adolescence. Previous MRI studies have shown complex patterns of apparent loss of grey matter (GM) volume and increases in white matter (WM) volume and fractional anisotropy (FA), an index of WM microstructure. In this longitudinal study (mean follow-up=2.5+/-0.5 years) of 24 adolescents, we used a voxel-based morphometry (VBM)-style analysis with conventional T1-weighted images to test for age-related changes in GM and WM volumes. We also performed tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) analysis of diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) data to test for age-related WM changes across the whole brain. Probabilistic tractography was used to carry out quantitative comparisons across subjects in measures of WM microstructure in two fiber tracts important for supporting speech and motor functions (arcuate fasciculus [AF] and corticospinal tract [CST]). The whole-brain analyses identified age-related increases in WM volume and FA bilaterally in many fiber tracts, including AF and many parts of the CST. FA changes were mainly driven by increases in parallel diffusivity, probably reflecting increases in the diameter of the axons forming the fiber tracts. FA values of both left and right AF (but not of the CST) were significantly higher at the end of the follow-up than at baseline. Over the same period, widespread reductions in the cortical GM volume were found. These findings provide imaging-based anatomical data suggesting that brain maturation in adolescence is associated with structural changes enhancing long-distance connectivities in different WM tracts, specifically in the AF and CST, at the same time that cortical GM exhibits synaptic "pruning".