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J Adolesc Health. 2008 Apr;42(4):335-43. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2008.01.007.

The teen brain: insights from neuroimaging.

Author information

  • Brain Imaging Unit, Child Psychiatry Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA. jg@nih.gov


Few parents of a teenager are surprised to hear that the brain of a 16-year-old is different from the brain of an 8-year-old. Yet to pin down these differences in a rigorous scientific way has been elusive. Magnetic resonance imaging, with the capacity to provide exquisitely accurate quantifications of brain anatomy and physiology without the use of ionizing radiation, has launched a new era of adolescent neuroscience. Longitudinal studies of subjects from ages 3-30 years demonstrate a general pattern of childhood peaks of gray matter followed by adolescent declines, functional and structural increases in connectivity and integrative processing, and a changing balance between limbic/subcortical and frontal lobe functions, extending well into young adulthood. Although overinterpretation and premature application of neuroimaging findings for diagnostic purposes remains a risk, converging data from multiple imaging modalities is beginning to elucidate the implications of these brain changes on cognition, emotion, and behavior.

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