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Mapping cortical change across the human life span


We used magnetic resonance imaging and cortical matching algorithms to map gray matter density (GMD) in 176 normal individuals ranging in age from 7 to 87 years. We found a significant, nonlinear decline in GMD with age, which was most rapid between 7 and about 60 years, over dorsal frontal and parietal association cortices on both the lateral and interhemispheric surfaces. Age effects were inverted in the left posterior temporal region, where GMD gain continued up to age 30 and then rapidly declined. The trajectory of maturational and aging effects varied considerably over the cortex. Visual, auditory and limbic cortices, which are known to myelinate early, showed a more linear pattern of aging than the frontal and parietal neocortices, which continue myelination into adulthood. Our findings also indicate that the posterior temporal cortices, primarily in the left hemisphere, which typically support language functions, have a more protracted course of maturation than any other cortical region.

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Figure 1: Statistical brain map for nonlinear age effects on GMD on the lateral brain surface.
Figure 2: Scatterplot map of the lateral brain surface.
Figure 3: Statistical brain map for nonlinear age effects on GMD on the interhemispheric brain surface.
Figure 4: Scatterplot map of the interhemispheric brain surface.
Figure 5: Peak-age maps.
Figure 6: Volume graphs.


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This study was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (MH01733 to E.R.S., MH01232 and MH59139 to B.S.P., 5T32 MH16381 to A.W.T.), the Suzanne Crosby Murphy Endowment at Columbia University (to B.S.P.), the National Science Foundation (DBI 9601356 to A.W.T.), the National Center for Research Resources (P41 RR13642 to A.W.T.) and the pediatric supplement of the Human Brain Project, funded jointly by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (P20 MH/DA52176 to A.W.T.).

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Correspondence to Elizabeth R. Sowell.

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Sowell, E., Peterson, B., Thompson, P. et al. Mapping cortical change across the human life span. Nat Neurosci 6, 309–315 (2003).

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