Down Syndrome: Thickness of Cerebral Cortex Answers Questions About Intellectual Development

First Posted: Jun 19, 2015 08:22 PM EDT

Could the brain's cerebral cortex provide some answers about intellectual development in youth with Down Syndrome?

New findings published in the journal Cerebral Cortex reveal that the the cortex is thicker on average in youth with Down Syndrome than in typically developing youth, even though the volume for those with Down Syndrome is typically lower.

The cerebral cortex consists of the outer layer of brain tissue, based on a folded region about 2-4 millimeters thick and helps consist with functions including sensory and cognitive processes.

For the study, researchers performed structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on the brains of children involved in the study, comparing MRI measurements from 31 youth with Down Syndrome and 45 typically developing peers.

Findings revealed that the cortex's surface area was lower in the youth with Down Syndrome because surface area works as a component of the total volume, which is also lower.

"The part that was surprising was our finding that the thickness of the cortex was greater in many regions in the group with Down Syndrome," said lead study author Nancy Raitano Lee, PhD, an assistant professor at Drexel University, in a news release

However, the exact cause for increased cortical thickness in Down Syndrome is still uncertain. Researchers believe that one possibility may be due to the fact that the brain in Down Syndrome individuals doesn't shrink excess neural connections as effectively as in typical development, which typically occurs during young adulthood as individuals reach maturity.

Researchers said they are hopeful that an understanding of the findings as well as new research may reveal the importance of the cortex for understanding certain developmental processes.

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