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Hum Brain Mapp. 2014 Sep;35(9):4459-74. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22487. Epub 2014 Feb 25.

Morphological features of the neonatal brain support development of subsequent cognitive, language, and motor abilities.

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Center for Developmental Neuropsychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, New York.


Knowledge of the role of brain maturation in the development of cognitive abilities derives primarily from studies of school-age children to adults. Little is known about the morphological features of the neonatal brain that support the subsequent development of abilities in early childhood, when maturation of the brain and these abilities are the most dynamic. The goal of our study was to determine whether brain morphology during the neonatal period supports early cognitive development through 2 years of age. We correlated morphological features of the cerebral surface assessed using deformation-based measures (surface distances) of high-resolution MRI scans for 33 healthy neonates, scanned between the first to sixth week of postmenstrual life, with subsequent measures of their motor, language, and cognitive abilities at ages 6, 12, 18, and 24 months. We found that morphological features of the cerebral surface of the frontal, mesial prefrontal, temporal, and occipital regions correlated with subsequent motor scores, posterior parietal regions correlated with subsequent language scores, and temporal and occipital regions correlated with subsequent cognitive scores. Measures of the anterior and middle portions of the cingulate gyrus correlated with scores across all three domains of ability. Most of the significant findings were inverse correlations located bilaterally in the brain. The inverse correlations may suggest either that a more protracted morphological maturation or smaller local volumes of neonatal brain tissue supports better performance on measures of subsequent motor, language, and cognitive abilities throughout the first 2 years of postnatal life. The correlations of morphological measures of the cingulate with measures of performance across all domains of ability suggest that the cingulate supports a broad range of skills in infancy and early childhood, similar to its functions in older children and adults.


brain; cognition; infant; neonate

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