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NIH study tracks brain development in some 500 children across US

Children appear to approach adult levels of performance on many basic cognitive and motor skills by age 11 or 12, according to a new study coordinated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The NIH Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Study of Normal Brain Development is tracking brain and behavioral development in about 500 healthy American children, from birth to age 18. A report published online today by the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society* contains the first glimpse of behavioral data covering IQ, motor dexterity, language, computation, and social skills collected from children ages 6 to 18.

The study "will provide researchers with a reference point for how the normal brain develops, so that they can better understand what goes wrong in children who have brain abnormalities caused by genetic disease, prenatal exposure to alcohol or drugs, or other factors," said lead author Deborah Waber, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School.

Some of the behavioral data validate trends seen in other studies; for example, they show that family income has an impact on a child's IQ and social behaviors. But the lack of evidence for dramatic cognitive growth during adolescence was a surprise.

The long-term goal of the study team is to link these behavioral data to MRI scans of the children's brains. Together, the two data sets will allow researchers to view how the brain grows and reorganizes itself throughout childhood, and to explore the meaning of the structural changes they see.

"This study will provide a comprehensive database for clinicians and scientists alike," said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D. "A neurologist who notices something unusual in a child's MRI could use the database to help determine if the anomaly is within the normal range of variation, or if it is cause for concern. A researcher studying an environmental
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Contact: Daniel Stimson
stimsond@ninds.nih.gov
301-496-5751
NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
18-May-2007


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