It has been established through years of research that childhood experiences play a crucial role in shaping the person’s personality or mental health. But a team of neuroscientists has found through a study that the teenage brain can actually predict whether one would develop mental disorders later in life.
According to a study jointly conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge and University College London (UCL), a teenager’s brain structure could potentially provide clues of the individual’s mental health condition later in life.
In the study, researchers identified changes in brain structures during the adolescence period, and how these changes affect or predict the onset of health conditions. The findings of the study were recently published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.
In order to arrive to the conclusion, the researchers studied the anatomy and changes in brain structure of around 300 volunteers aged between 14 and 24 using brain-imaging device called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Based on the study, at least two major changes in brain development happen during this crucial period of human development. First, the researchers found that the brain structure called cortex, or the outer regions of the brain, shrink and become thinner.
Increased Myelin Sheath Level
The second major change that happens during this period is the increased level of the myelin sheath in the cortex. The myelin sheath is a membrane than insulates the Schwann cell within the nerve cell, which facilitates rapid communication between neurons or brain cells.
Dr. Kristie Whitaker, psychiatry professor at the University of Cambridge, said that even during the teenage years, human brains continue to develop. Whitaker added that neural changes during this period are more detailed than during childhood years.
“When we’re still children, these changes may be more dramatic, but in adolescence we see that the changes refine the detail. The hubs that connect different regions are becoming set in place as the most important connections strengthen. We believe this is where we are seeing myelin increasing in adolescence,” Whitaker said in the statement.
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