Gray Matter Density Increases During Adolescence
Study reveals new methods of characterizing differences between youth and adult, male and female brains
For years, the common narrative in human developmental neuroimaging has been that gray matter in the brain – the tissue found in regions of the brain responsible for muscle control, sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making and self-control – declines in adolescence, a finding derived mainly from studies of gray matter volume and cortical thickness (the thickness of the outer layers of brain that contain gray matter). Since it has been well-established that larger brain volume is associated with better cognitive performance, it was puzzling that cognitive performance shows a dramatic improvement from childhood to young adulthood at the same time that brain volume and cortical thickness decline. A new study published by Penn Medicine researchers this month may help resolve this puzzle, revealing that while volume indeed decreases from childhood to young adulthood, gray matter density actually increases. Their findings also show that while females have lower brain volume, proportionate to their smaller size, they have higher gray matter density than males, which could explain why their cognitive performance is comparable despite having lower brain volume.
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