Neuroanatomical assessment of biological maturity
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Structural MRI allows unparalleled in vivo study of the anatomy of the developing human brain. For more than two decades, MRI research has revealed many new aspects of this multifaceted maturation process, significantly augmenting scientific knowledge gathered from postmortem studies. Postnatal brain development is notably protracted and involves considerable changes in cerebral cortical, subcortical, and cerebellar structures, as well as significant architectural changes in white matter fiber tracts (see ). Although much work has described isolated features of neuroanatomical development, it remains a critical challenge to characterize the multidimensional nature of brain anatomy, capturing different phases of development among individuals. Capitalizing on key advances in multisite, multimodal MRI, and using cross-validated nonlinear modeling, we demonstrate that developmental brain phase can be assessed with much greater precision than has been possible using other biological measures, accounting for more than 92% of the variance in age. Further, our composite metric of morphology, diffusivity, and signal intensity shows that the average difference in phase among children of the same age is only about 1 year, revealing for the first time a latent phenotype in the human brain for which maturation timing is tightly controlled.