The development of brain network architecture

Lara M. Wierenga*, Martijn P. van den Heuvel, Sarai van Dijk, Yvonne Rijks, Marcel A. de Reus, Sarah Durston

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Brain connectivity shows protracted development throughout childhood and adolescence, and, as such, the topology of brain networks changes during this period. The complexity of these changes with development is reflected by regional differences in maturation. This study explored age-related changes in network topology and regional developmental patterns during childhood and adolescence. We acquired two sets of Diffusion Weighted Imaging-scans and anatomical T1-weighted scans. The first dataset included 85 typically developing individuals (53 males; 32 females), aged between 7 and 23 years and was acquired on a Philips Achieva 1.5 Tesla scanner. A second dataset (N=38) was acquired on a different (but identical) 1.5 T scanner and was used for independent replication of our results. We reconstructed whole brain networks using tractography. We operationalized fiber tract development as changes in mean diffusivity and radial diffusivity with age. Most fibers showed maturational changes in mean and radial diffusivity values throughout childhood and adolescence, likely reflecting increasing white matter integrity. The largest age-related changes were observed in association fibers within and between the frontal and parietal lobes. Furthermore, there was a simultaneous age-related decrease in average path length (P<0.0001), increase in node strength (P<0.0001) as well as network clustering (P=0.001), which may reflect fine-tuning of topological organization. These results suggest a sequential maturational model where connections between unimodal regions strengthen in childhood, followed by connections from these unimodal regions to association regions, while adolescence is characterized by the strengthening of connections between association regions within the frontal and parietal cortex. Hum Brain Mapp 37:717-729, 2016.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)717-729
Number of pages13
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016

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