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UD researchers find differences in adolescent brains

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New research at the University of Delaware offers some insight into how the human brain develops.

The study measures the mechanical properties of 46 adolescent brains using a non-invasive mapping system called magnetic resonance elastography (MRE).

The results, recently published in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, found young people’s brains are softer around the cortex, but the grey matter near the center of their brains is stiffer than in adults.

The work was co-authored by UD Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering Curtis Johnson.

He says this research gives can help us understand more about the relationship between the structure of the brain and how it functions.

“So these are things like general size or shape, and in our case we’re using these mechanical properties—stiffness and viscosity—to assess brain structure and we’re trying to relate them to cognitive function,” said Johnson.

The paper points to other studies suggesting structural brain qualities can be used as very specific measurements of brain function offering insight into the treatment of cognitive disorders. But Johnson says his research is the first to look at adolescents.

“This is a time of high development and a lot of change, even in a developmental sense, the brain is maturing, these functions are maturing and understanding what is changing in the brain and how it relates to cognitive function is really important,” said Johnson.

Johnson says the softer cortex of adolescent brains suggests the cognitive function in those regions is still developing, while the subcortical regions become stiffer during puberty development and then softens in adulthood.

The research is part of a larger study with Christiana Care and Nemours seeking to learn how cerebral palsy causes impaired movement.

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