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Title: Optimization of energy state transition trajectory supports the development of executive function during youth
Adolescents are known for taking risks, from driving too fast to experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Such behaviors tend to decrease as individuals move into adulthood. Most people in their mid-twenties have greater self-control than they did as teenagers. They are also often better at planning, sustaining attention, and inhibiting impulsive behaviors. These skills, which are known as executive functions, develop over the course of adolescence. Executive functions rely upon a series of brain regions distributed across the frontal lobe and the lobe that sits just behind it, the parietal lobe. Fiber tracts connect these regions to form a fronto-parietal network. These fiber tracts are also referred to as white matter due to the whitish fatty material that surrounds and insulates them. Cui et al. now show that changes in white matter networks have implications for teen behavior. Almost 950 healthy young people aged between 8 and 23 years underwent a type of brain scan called diffusion-weighted imaging that visualizes white matter. The scans revealed that white matter networks in the frontal and parietal lobes mature over adolescence. This makes it easier for individuals to activate their fronto-parietal networks by decreasing the amount of energy required. Cui et al. show more » that a computer model can predict the maturity of a person's brain based on the energy needed to activate their fronto-parietal networks. These changes help explain why executive functions improve during adolescence. This in turn explains why behaviors such as risk-taking tend to decrease with age. That said, adults with various psychiatric disorders, such as ADHD and psychosis, often show impaired executive functions. In the future, it may be possible to reduce these impairments by applying magnetic fields to the scalp to reduce the activity of specific brain regions. The techniques used in the current study could help reveal which brain regions to target with this approach. « less
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