Overview: Neuroimaging of a person’s unique brain activity may help predict mental health problems during adolescence, a new study reports.
Source: University of the Sunshine Coast
Medical imaging of a person’s unique brain signature — much like a fingerprint — has the potential to predict mental health problems in young adolescents, according to a world-first study by researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
In a study published in NeuroImageResearchers at USC’s Thompson Institute tested the uniqueness of adolescents’ individual brain activity patterns, and whether changes in their brain networks at different times were associated with their mental health symptoms.
“We investigated whether there are unique patterns of neural activity in brain networks that may be associated with emerging distressing, confusing and frustrating feelings experienced by adolescents, particularly those who may be vulnerable to mental disorders,” said Dr. Shan, head of Neuroimaging platform at the Thompson Institute.
dr. Shan, the lead author of the study, said the team characterized the development of several “functional brain networks” in young adolescents from brain scans performed every four months on a group of about 70 participants, starting at age 12 through to. 15 years.
Each time the scans were taken, the participants also completed questionnaires asking about their feelings over the past 30 days, particularly about their levels of depression and anxiety.
“The findings highlight the importance of longitudinal neuroimaging to monitor adolescent mental health — at a time when the brain is growing and changing dramatically in both structure and function — and its potential to detect changes before abnormal behavior occurs,” said Dr. Shan.
“Given the nature of emerging mental health conditions in young people, continuous measurement of mental health problems is more likely to reveal important links between neurobiological measures and mental illness.”
Mapping changes in the brain as they occur
The data was collected as part of the Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study (LABS) by the Thompson Institute – a study designed to monitor changes in the brain during adolescence and to better understand the factors that influence on the mental health of adolescents.
More than half of all mental health problems are diagnosed before the age of 14. In Australia, one in four young people aged 15 to 19 meet the criteria for probable serious mental illness.
The “uniqueness” of the brain signature was determined by how similar a person was to themselves at other times, as well as how similar they were to their peers (other participants).
Important insights into the differences and similarities of young minds
Like a fingerprint, each human brain has a unique profile of signals between different brain regions that become more individual and specialized as people age.
“The brain works like a symphony orchestra, synchronizing activities from different brain regions in synchronization to determine our thoughts and behavior,” said Dr. Shan.
It was confirmed that a unique whole-brain synchronization exists in 12-year-olds, with 92 percent of the participants having their own functional connectomes, or unique brain “fingerprints.”
Closer analysis of 13 individual brain networks discovered uniqueness in some networks at age 12, while others were still maturing and developing.
Importantly, the brain network that controls individual’s “cognitive flexibility” and ability to handle negative influences, known as the “cingulo-opercular network” (or CON), has low levels of uniqueness.
“This suggests that it has not yet fully matured and thus provides a biological explanation for the increased vulnerability in young people,” said Dr. Shan.
“Combined with the existence of a high degree of whole-brain uniqueness, the results suggested that adolescents are able to use these systems to regulate everyday behavior. But they do not yet do so in a controlled, sustainable and reliable manner.” way.”
An important finding was that the uniqueness of CON was significantly and negatively associated with subsequent levels of psychological distress when assessed four months later.
“This relationship reflected the importance of the CON in adolescent mental health. In future studies, we plan to unravel whether this reflects a deterioration of pre-existing experiences or whether a delay in forming a unique system causes an increase in psychological distress,” said Dr. Shan.
The networks with the highest uniqueness were the ‘frontoparietal network’, which is responsible for immediate information processing, and the ‘default mode network’, which is important for internal cognitive processes, such as thinking about oneself or the future.
About this neuroscience research news
Original research: Open access.
†A longitudinal study of the uniqueness of functional connectomes and its association with psychological problems in adolescenceby Zack Y Shan et al. NeuroImage
A longitudinal study of the uniqueness of functional connectomes and its association with psychological problems in adolescence
Each human brain has a unique functional synchronization pattern (functional connectome) analogous to a fingerprint that supports brain functions and related behavior.
Here we examine the maturation of functional connectome (whole brain and 13 networks) by measuring its uniqueness in adolescents who underwent longitudinal brain scans every four months from the age of 12 years.
The uniqueness of a functional connectome is defined as the ratio of self-similarity (of the same subject at a different time) to the maximum similarity to others (of a particular subject and all others at a different time).
We found that the unique whole-brain connectome exists in 12-year-old adolescents, with 92% of individuals having a whole-brain uniqueness value greater than one.
The cingulo-opercular network (CON; a long-acting brain control network that configures information processing) exhibited marginal uniqueness in early adolescence, with 56% of individuals exhibiting uniqueness greater than one (i.e., more similar to her/his own CON at four months later than those of other subjects) and this increased longitudinally.
In particular, the low uniqueness of the CON correlates ( = -18.6, FDR-Q < < 0.001) with K10 levels at the next time point. This association suggests that the individualization of the CON network is related to psychological stress levels.
Our findings highlight the potential of longitudinal neuroimaging to capture mental health problems in young people undergoing a deep period of neuroplasticity and environmental sensitivity.