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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2008;1129:246-55. doi: 10.1196/annals.1417.025.

Placing neuroanatomical models of executive function in a developmental context: imaging and imaging--genetic strategies.

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Department of Psychiatry, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY 10029, USA.


Children show gradual and protracted improvement in an array of behaviors involved in the conscious control of thought and emotion. Behavioral research has shown that these abilities, collectively referred to as executive functions (EF), can be dissociated into separable processes, such as inhibition and working memory. Furthermore, noninvasive neuroimaging shows that these component processes often rely on separable neural circuits involving areas of the frontal cortex and nuclei of the basal ganglia. As additional noninvasive methodologies become available, it is increasingly possible to continue to dissect and dissociate components of EF and also test predictions made by a number of theoretical neuroanatomical models. One method of late is genetics, which is noninvasive and readily used in concert with neuroimaging. The biological data obtained with neuroimaging and genetics is particularly able to inform neuroanatomical models that link specific brain systems with higher more abstract process models derived from purely behavioral work. As much progress in this area continues to occur, we seek to evaluate the age dependency and manner in which certain aspects of EF and certain anatomical circuits show changes and interactions as children develop. Some examples are taken from research on children with the developmental disability attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. A review of selected developmental research shows that current cognitive and neuroanatomical models of EF offer a great many system- and synaptic-level hypotheses that can be tested using imaging and imaging genetics in longitudinal and cross-sectional study designs. Here, we focus on age-related changes in inhibition and working memory.

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