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What a difference a decade makes

St. Louis, May 24, 2002 It turns out children are not just miniature adults, at least not when it comes to processing words. Neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis used a variety of innovative research methods to identify similarities and differences between adult and pediatric brains when performing certain language exercises. The research is published in the May 24 issue of the journal Science.

A fundamental objective of neuroscience research is to understand how the human brain develops, explains lead investigator Bradley L. Schlaggar, M.D., Ph.D., instructor of neurology and pediatrics. We need such knowledge to understand how normal brains develop and to learn what goes wrong in pediatric neurology-related disorders. Only then can we develop clinical interventions to treat these children.

Most studies of this kind are unable to distinguish whether variations between age groups reflect developmental differences or whether they simply reflect the fact that children dont perform as well overall as their adult counterparts. Schlaggar, working with Steven E. Petersen, Ph.D., the James S. McDonnell Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, and members of Petersens laboratory, employed several strategies to address this problem.

They tested 19 children aged seven to 10 on single-word processing tasks, which require participants to say a word in response to a written word (for example, antonyms). Functional magnetic brain imaging (fMRI) scans from these tasks were compared with images from 22 adults (an average of 25 years old) who had completed similar tasks. FMRI images reveal which brain regions are actively involved in different tasks. The study highlighted two brain regions in left frontal and left extrastriate cortex, which are known to play a key role in language processing and are believed to undergo substantial development between childhood and adulthood.

Normally during an fMRI study, participants
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Contact: Joni Westerhouse
westerhousej@msnotes.wustl.edu
314-286-0120
Washington University School of Medicine
23-May-2002


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