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Research reveals new insights into brain development

(Photo credit: Washington University School of Medicine)
Brain scan images showing areas of the cerebral cortex in infancy (top) and young adulthood. Yellow areas expanded the most.

By Veronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis, MO – New insights into how our brains develop may eventually help doctors find better treatments for autism and other childhood disorders.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine used a computerized brain-scanning technique to compare healthy infant brains to those of healthy adults.

They found that during childhood, the parts of the cerebral cortex involved in language, reasoning, and other complex mental functions grow about twice as much as the rest.

Neurobiologist David Van Essen says this is not only an important new insight into normal brain development, "but it also gives us a way of thinking more deeply about the problems that can occur during normal development."

Those problems include autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Van Essen says he then compared these results to what he already knew about the brains of monkeys.

"The regions that grow more during childhood development are the regions that expanded the most during the evolution of humans compared to apes and monkeys and other primate species."

Van Essen says these new insights into human brain development may lead to better treatments for problems like ADHD and autism. The researchers are currently doing a similar study of the brains of premature infants.


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