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J Neurosci. 2007 Feb 7;27(6):1255-60.

Regional gray matter growth, sexual dimorphism, and cerebral asymmetry in the neonatal brain.

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UNC Schizophrenia Research Center and Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA.


Although there has been recent interest in the study of childhood and adolescent brain development, very little is known about normal brain development in the first few months of life. In older children, there are regional differences in cortical gray matter development, whereas cortical gray and white matter growth after birth has not been studied to a great extent. The adult human brain is also characterized by cerebral asymmetries and sexual dimorphisms, although very little is known about how these asymmetries and dimorphisms develop. We used magnetic resonance imaging and an automatic segmentation methodology to study brain structure in 74 neonates in the first few weeks after birth. We found robust cortical gray matter growth compared with white matter growth, with occipital regions growing much faster than prefrontal regions. Sexual dimorphism is present at birth, with males having larger total brain cortical gray and white matter volumes than females. In contrast to adults and older children, the left hemisphere is larger than the right hemisphere, and the normal pattern of fronto-occipital asymmetry described in older children and adults is not present. Regional differences in cortical gray matter growth are likely related to differential maturation of sensory and motor systems compared with prefrontal executive function after birth. These findings also indicate that whereas some adult patterns of sexual dimorphism and cerebral asymmetries are present at birth, others develop after birth.

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