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Glia. 2019 Jun 24. doi: 10.1002/glia.23661. [Epub ahead of print]

White matter plasticity and maturation in human cognition.

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Neurosciences and Mental Health Program, Research Institute, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Krembil Research Institute, University Health Network, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Mathematics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Neurology, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Paediatrics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


White matter plasticity likely plays a critical role in supporting cognitive development. However, few studies have used the imaging methods specific to white matter tissue structure or experimental designs sensitive to change in white matter necessary to elucidate these relations. Here we briefly review novel imaging approaches that provide more specific information regarding white matter microstructure. Furthermore, we highlight recent studies that provide greater clarity regarding the relations between changes in white matter and cognition maturation in both healthy children and adolescents and those with white matter insult. Finally, we examine the hypothesis that white matter is linked to cognitive function via its impact on neural synchronization. We test this hypothesis in a population of children and adolescents with recurrent demyelinating syndromes. Specifically, we evaluate group differences in white matter microstructure within the optic radiation; and neural phase synchrony in visual cortex during a visual task between 25 patients and 28 typically developing age-matched controls. Children and adolescents with demyelinating syndromes show evidence of myelin and axonal compromise and this compromise predicts reduced phase synchrony during a visual task compared to typically developing controls. We investigate one plausible mechanism at play in this relationship using a computational model of gamma generation in early visual cortical areas. Overall, our findings show a fundamental connection between white matter microstructure and neural synchronization that may be critical for cognitive processing. In the future, longitudinal or interventional studies can build upon our knowledge of these exciting relations between white matter, neural communication, and cognition.


cognition; demyelinating syndromes; diffusion MRI; maturation; neural oscillations; plasticity; white matter


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