The new study found that the first areas to mature (e.g., extreme front and back of the brain) are those with the most basic functions, such as processing the senses and movement. Areas involved in spatial orientation and language (parietal lobes) follow. Areas with more advanced functions -- integrating information from the senses, reasoning and other "executive" functions (prefrontal cortex) mature last.
In a related study published a few years ago, Rapoport and colleagues discovered an exaggerated wave of gray matter loss in teens with early onset schizophrenia. These teens, who became psychotic prior to puberty, lost four times the normal amount of gray matter in their frontal lobes, suggesting that childhood onset schizophrenia "may be an exaggeration of a normal maturation process, perhaps related to excessive synaptic pruning," note the researchers. By contrast, children with autism show an abnormal back-to-front wave of gray matter increases, rather than decreases, suggesting "a specific faulty step in early development."
Also participating in the new study were: Leslie Lusk, Cathy Vaituzis, Tom Nugent, David Herman, Drs. Deanna Greenstein, Liv Clasen, NIMH; Kiralee Hayashi, UCLA.