Editors' ChoicePsychiatry

Size matters: A growth chart for the brain connectome

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Science Translational Medicine  25 May 2016:
Vol. 8, Issue 340, pp. 340ec84
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aaf9197

Growth charts are a widely used tool to assess the development of children. A growth chart consists of a series of percentile curves representing data collected for characteristics such as height and weight at different ages that helps to identify potential developmental problems. Now, Kessler et al. attempt to create growth charts for cognitive abilities in young people. Using brain imaging data, these investigators created charts of functional brain networks for over 500 children and young adults aged 8 to 22 years and correlated the charts with performance on attention tests. The authors suggest that the charts may be able to predict attention disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The authors collected resting state neuroimaging data from ~500 children, of which almost 5% met the criteria for ADHD, and they identified intrinsic connectivity networks. Intrinsic connectivity networks are functionally connected neuronal networks that represent the brain’s architecture (i.e., connectome) and have a defined developmental trajectory, with the different components of the network showing a shift in expression pattern with age. Measuring each individual’s deviation from the expected pattern of expression for their age, the authors observed that these scores correlated with performance on a sustained attention test, in which participants had to respond whenever the segments displayed on a computer screen formed letters or numbers. Five out of the 15 network components analyzed showed distinctive maturation profiles, and underexpression of these components relative to age was associated with worse performance on the attention test. Kessler et al. show that alterations in the maturation profile of intrinsic connectivity networks predict ADHD in their cohort of children and young adults. Although unlikely to have an immediate translation to the clinic, this work opens up an avenue for further research into brain network development and behavioral disorders. Perhaps with the arrival of more efficient techniques to track the development of brain networks, such as noninvasive EEG, it may be possible to see brain connectome growth charts in the pediatrician's office in the future.

D. Kessler et al., Growth charting of brain connectivity networks and the identification of attention impairment in youth. JAMA Psychiatry 73, 481–489 (2016). [Abstract]

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