Infants’ cortex undergoes microstructural growth coupled with myelination during development

Vaidehi S. Natu*, Mona Rosenke, Hua Wu, Francesca R. Querdasi, Holly Kular, Nancy Lopez-Alvarez, Mareike Grotheer, Shai Berman, Aviv A. Mezer, Kalanit Grill-Spector*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Development of cortical tissue during infancy is critical for the emergence of typical brain functions in cortex. However, how cortical microstructure develops during infancy remains unknown. We measured the longitudinal development of cortex from birth to six months of age using multimodal quantitative imaging of cortical microstructure. Here we show that infants’ cortex undergoes profound microstructural tissue growth during the first six months of human life. Comparison of postnatal to prenatal transcriptomic gene expression data demonstrates that myelination and synaptic processes are dominant contributors to this postnatal microstructural tissue growth. Using visual cortex as a model system, we find hierarchical microstructural growth: higher-level visual areas have less mature tissue at birth than earlier visual areas but grow at faster rates. This overturns the prominent view that visual areas that are most mature at birth develop fastest. Together, in vivo, longitudinal, and quantitative measurements, which we validated with ex vivo transcriptomic data, shed light on the rate, sequence, and biological mechanisms of developing cortical systems during early infancy. Importantly, our findings propose a hypothesis that cortical myelination is a key factor in cortical development during early infancy, which has important implications for diagnosis of neurodevelopmental disorders and delays in infants.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number1191
JournalCommunications Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

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