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New Brain Measurements Can Pinpoint Children's Age

THURSDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- A new set of brain measurements can determine a child's age with 92 percent accuracy, and its creators say the timing of the brain's development is more tightly controlled than previously thought.

"We have uncovered a 'developmental clock' within the brain -- a biological signature of maturation that captures age differences quite well regardless of other kinds of differences that exist across individuals," study first author Timothy Brown, a developmental cognitive neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, said in a university news release.

Using advanced MRI technology, the researchers took multidimensional brain measurements among a diverse group of nearly 900 children and teenagers, ranging in age from 3 to 20 years old.

Measurements included the shape, size and tissue properties of different parts of the children's brains. Researchers examined brain features known to change over time, such as the volume of deep structures, tissue properties, signal intensities and cortical thickness and area.

"No individual measurement closely reflects a child's age across the childhood years, because changes of different kinds cascade dynamically as development progresses," the study's principal investigator, Terry Jernigan, a professor of cognitive science at UCSD, explained in the news release. "But taken together, the measurements reveal a phenotype that is tightly linked to the child's chronological age."

The authors said their multidimensional brain measurements might help in the early detection of developmental brain disorders.

The study will appear in the Sept. 25 issue of the journal Current Biology.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on the brain.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: University of California, San Diego, news release, Aug. 16, 2012

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