UCLA Researchers Map Brain Growth
in Four Dimensions,
Revealing Stage-Specific Growth Patterns in Children

Contact: Dr. Paul Thompson (310)206-2101

or Alan Eyerly, UCLA Health Sciences Communications (310)794-2271

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Related: The Mozart Effect (Los Angeles Times, June 2003; by Scott Timberg)
Other media stories can be found here.

For Immediate Use: March 8, 2000, 11:00AM PST

UCLA brain imaging researchers have developed a powerful new technique for creating maps of growth patterns in the brains of children. The findings, published in the March 9th issue of the journal Nature*, offer an exciting new window on brain development, revealing extraordinarily complex patterns of tissue growth and loss.

The scientists employed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to scan a group of three- to 15-year-old children across very short (two weeks) and very long (four years) time intervals. This sophisticated imaging approach, the first to detect and track local changes in growth throughout the brains of individual children, produces high-resolution maps of these dynamic processes in four dimensions -- length, breadth, depth and time.

Led by Dr. Paul Thompson at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, the research team used high-performance computers to analyze brain images. The team found that brain systems specialized for learning language grew extremely rapidly from the age of six until puberty in both boys and girls. These linguistic brain areas experience a dramatic shutting down of growth around ages 11 to 15, coinciding with the end of a well-known period during which children easily learn new languages.

Scientists also detected a massive growth spurt from ages three to six in frontal regions of the brain that specialize in organizing and planning new behaviors. During this period, children learn a immense variety of new behaviors.

As children approach puberty and adolescence, a wave of peak growth moves backwards in the brain towards language systems. From ages seven to 11, children rapidly lose tissue in deep brain nuclei that control motor skills, such as learning to ride a bicycle, thus suggesting a refinement in processing efficiency and a pruning away of redundant tissue.

Thompson said the findings may have key implications for educating children. Aided by a better understanding of how the brain develops, educators could teach languages, mathematics and other specific skills at the most advantageous times.

In another first, the brain mapping technique reveals the underlying changes in the brain's anatomical hardware as children acquire new skills. Now that they have detected previously unseen waves of growth and key anatomical changes, scientists can establish powerful linkages between cognitive and behavioral changes and rapid changes in underlying brain structures.

The findings have exciting diagnostic implications as well. By assembling the first detailed maps of the growing brain, researchers can detect aberrant growth profiles that allow earlier diagnosis and treatment of learning and developmental disorders such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and childhood-onset schizophrenia.

The UCLA researchers also applied this new imaging approach to adult patients with Alzheimer's disease. They made the intriguing discovery that the last brain systems to mature in adolescence degenerate first in dementia.

Nature Article:

[1] Paul M. Thompson, Jay N. Giedd, Roger P. Woods, David MacDonald, Alan C. Evans, and Arthur W. Toga (2000). Growth Patterns in the Developing Human Brain Detected By Using Continuum-Mechanical Tensor Maps, Nature, vol. 404, no. 6774, March 9 2000.

Contact Information:

Paul Thompson
UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging
Phone: 310-206-2101
Fax: 310-206-5518

Related Publications

  • Disease-Specific Brain Atlases

  • A Population-Based Brain Atlas

  • other research areas

  • (back to main list)

    Contact Information

  • Mail:

    Paul Thompson, Ph.D.
    Assistant Professor of Neurology
    UCLA Lab of Neuro-Imaging and Brain Mapping Division
    Dept. Neurology and Brain Research Institute
    4238 Reed Neurology, UCLA Medical Center
    710 Westwood Plaza
    Westwood, Los Angeles CA 90095-1769, USA.

  • E-mail:
  • Tel: (310)206-2101
  • Fax: (310)206-5518