White matter growth as a mechanism of cognitive development in children
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We examined the functional role of white matter growth in cognitive development. Specifically, we used hierarchical regression analyses to test the unique contributions of age versus white matter integrity in accounting for the development of information processing speed. Diffusion tensor imaging was acquired for 17 children and adolescents (age range 6-17 years), with apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) and fractional anisotropy (FA) calculated for 10 anatomically defined fiber pathways and 12 regions of hemispheric white matter. Measures of speeded visual-spatial searching, rapid picture naming, reaction time in a sustained attention task, and intelligence were administered. Age-related increases were evident across tasks, as well as for white matter integrity in hemispheric white matter. ADC was related to few measures. FA within multiple hemispheric compartments predicted rapid picture naming and standard error of reaction time in sustained attention, though it did not contribute significantly to the models after controlling for age. Independent of intelligence, visual-spatial searching was related to FA in a number of hemispheric regions. A novel finding was that only right frontal-parietal regions contributed uniquely beyond the effect of age in accounting for performance: age did not contribute to visual-spatial searching when FA within these regions was first included in the models. Considering we found that both FA in right frontal-parietal regions and speed of visual-spatial searching increased with age, our findings are consistent with the growth of regional white matter organization as playing an important role in increased speed of visual searching with age.
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