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Our brain keeps growing well into our 20s

24/09/2011 19:58

Toronto: Our brain continues to grow well into our 20s -- not just stopping at adolescence as once thought in medical science.

New evidence to this effect has been unearthed by biomedical engineering researchers Christian Beaulieu and his doctoral student Catherine Lebel, from University of Alberta in Canada. 

Lebel recently moved to the US to work at the University of California in Los Angeles where she is a post-doctoral fellow working with an expert in brain-imaging research.

"This is the first long-range study using a type of imaging that looks at brain wiring to show that in the white matter, there are still structural changes happening during young adulthood," says Lebel, the Journal of Neuroscience reports.

"The white matter is the wiring of the brain; it connects different regions to facilitate cognitive abilities. So the connections are strengthening as we age in young adulthood," Lebel added, according to an Alberta statement. 

The researchers relied on magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) to scan the brains of 103 healthy people aged between five and 32 years. 

Each subject was scanned at least twice, with a total of 221 scans being conducted overall. The study demonstrated that parts of the brain continue to develop post-adolescence within individual subjects.

The results revealed that young adult brains were still wiring the frontal lobe; tracts responsible for complex cognitive tasks such as inhibition, high-level functioning and attention. 

Researchers speculated that this may be due to a plethora of life experiences in young adulthood, such as pursuing post-secondary education, starting a career, independence and developing new social and family relationships.

"What's interesting is a lot of psychiatric illness and other disorders emerge during adolescence... it may be one of the factors that makes someone more susceptible to developing these disorders," says Beaulieu.

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