Brain MRI May Help Predict Children’s Future Memory Performance

January 29, 2014

Magnetic resonance images that track developmental changes in a child’s brain may allow clinicians to predict future cognitive performance.

Brain MR images of children to demonstrate brain activity may predict future memory performance, according to an article published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Having the ability to see activity changes that might predict cognitive development could allow clinicians to identify children at risk for developing developmental changes earlier than current testing methods allow.

Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden collected and studied MRI data from 62 children and adolescents aged six to 20. The subjects completed working memory and reasoning tests and received multiple MRI scans to assess brain structure and changes in brain activity as they performed working memory tests. The subjects were evaluated with the same tests two years later.

The findings showed that while brain activity in the frontal cortex correlated with the children’s working memory at the time of the initial tests, activity in the basal ganglia and thalamus predicted how well children scored on the working memory tests two years later.

“Our results suggest that future cognitive development can be predicted from anatomical and functional information offered by MRI above and beyond that currently achieved by cognitive tests,” lead author Henrik Ullman, said in a release. “This has wide implications for understanding the neural mechanisms of cognitive development.”

This study is one of many being done in the field of predicting future cognitive capacity in development, Judy Iles, PhD, said in the same release.

“However, the appreciation of this important new knowledge is simpler than its application to everyday life,” said Iles, neuroethicist at the University of British Columbia, Canada “How a child performs today and tomorrow relies on multiple positive and negative life events that cannot be assessed by today’s technology alone.”