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J Neurosci. 2013 Oct 9;33(41):16249-61. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2345-13.2013.

Functional maturation of the executive system during adolescence.

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Departments of Psychiatry and Radiology, and Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia PA 19104, Center for Applied Genomics, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia PA 19104, and Philadelphia Veterans Administration Medical Center, Philadelphia PA 19104.


Adolescence is characterized by rapid development of executive function. Working memory (WM) is a key element of executive function, but it is not known what brain changes during adolescence allow improved WM performance. Using a fractal n-back fMRI paradigm, we investigated brain responses to WM load in 951 human youths aged 8-22 years. Compared with more limited associations with age, WM performance was robustly associated with both executive network activation and deactivation of the default mode network. Multivariate patterns of brain activation predicted task performance with a high degree of accuracy, and also mediated the observed age-related improvements in WM performance. These results delineate a process of functional maturation of the executive system, and suggest that this process allows for the improvement of cognitive capability seen during adolescence.

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