'Cortical excitability and plasticity in developing brain networks during childhood and adolescence'

Frankland 305
Life and Environmental Sciences, Research
Tuesday 2nd February 2016 (13:00-14:00)
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Part of the Developmental and Social Cognitive Neuroscience Seminar Series

Speaker: Kathrin Cohen Kadosh, University of Oxford

Today I will present the results from two new research projects, where I used single-voxel proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy and fMRI-based neurofeedback (NF) to investigate the developing brain. Developmental adjustments in the balance of excitation and inhibition are thought to constrain the plasticity of sensory areas of the cortex, yet it is unclear how these changes contribute to skill acquisition during development. Testing a group of 7-year-old girls and young women, we found that higher excitability levels (i.e., glutamate vs γ-aminobutyric acid ratios) in the inferior frontal gyrus correlated positively with face processing proficiency in the children, but not the adults. Conversely, excitability correlated negatively with visuo-spatial working memory performance in the adult group. These effects were independent of age-dependent differences in underlying cortical gray matter. The results suggests that while increased excitability may be crucial for acquiring new cognitive skills and neuroplasticity during development, maintaining these levels of neurochemical ratios may not be necessary for proficient functioning in later life.

In the second half of my talk, I will present the results from a NF study, where we taught a group of 7-16 year-olds to up-regulate the bilateral insula, a key emotion regulation (ER) region. NF has been used to train ER networks in adults, however, its usefulness in influencing ER network plasticity during development remains unclear. All participants were able to increase insula activation across several sessions. Moreover, training differentially affected the functional connectivity in the regulation and rest network connections. These findings confirm the suitability of using NF to shape key ER networks during development.  

Together, the results highlight the usefulness of these two novel research approaches to the investigation of plasticity in the developing brain and their potential to guide future training and intervention work.