Philadelphia, March 28, 2008 Many parents are convinced that the brains of their teenage offspring are different than those of children and adults. New data confirms that this is the case. An article by Jay N. Giedd, MD, of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), published in the April 2008 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health describes how brain changes in the adolescent brain impact cognition, emotion and behavior.
Dr. Giedd reviews the results from the NIMH Longitudinal Brain Imaging Project. This study and others indicate that gray matter increases in volume until approximately the early teens and then decreases until old age. Pinning down these differences in a rigorous way had been elusive until MRI was developed, offering the capacity to provide extremely accurate quantifications of brain anatomy and physiology without the use of ionizing radiation.
Writing in the article, Dr. Giedd comments, Adolescence is a time of substantial neurobiological and behavioral change, but the teen brain is not a broken or defective adult brain. The adaptive potential of the overproduction/selective elimination process, increased connectivity and integration of disparate brain functions, changing reward systems and frontal/limbic balance, and the accompanying behaviors of separation from family of origin, increased risk taking, and increased sensation seeking have been highly adaptive in our past and may be so in our future. These changes and the enormous plasticity of the teen brain make adolescence a time of great risk and great opportunity.
In an accompanying editorial, Elizabeth R. McAnarney MD, Department of Pediatrics, University of Rochester Medical Center, comments, Finally neuroscientists are able to go under the leathery membrane, surrounded by a protective moat of fluid, and completely encased in bone to provide new insights into brain development. Changes in the brain during childhood and adolescent development that are
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