reveals how human brains gro
UCLA researchers' findings someday may help determine how best to teach mental
skills to children.
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By ROBERT LEE
TIMES-WASHINGTON POST SERVICE
Opening a new window
into the mental mysteries of youth, researchers at the University of
California at Los Angeles for the first time have directly mapped growing human
brains, revealing a cascade of unsuspected physical changes.
The scientists recorded
neural growth spurts that coincide with important leaps in early learning
The findings, made
public in Nature today, may help lay
the foundation for a reassessment of how best to teach language, mathematics
and other crucial mental skills.
Every human brain, the
researchers determined, experiences rapid, distinct waves of almost explosive
growth that may determine when it is physically most receptive to learning new
skills or ways of thinking.
surprise was how much the brain is changing," said Jay Gieddes, chief of
brain imaging at the National Institute of Mental Health child psychiatry
branch, who helped perform the study. "It is much more tumultuous, much
more dynamic, much busier than we ever guessed."
To map the changing
structure of the developing brain, scientists at UCLA's neuro-imaging laboratory
invented a technique that allows them to precisely track millions of
physical landmarks in the growing brain, keeping it in focus as it morphs into
new shapes over the years of childhood.
technique harnesses conventional magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, which
can take detailed, three-dimensional anatomical images of living brain
tissue, to the power of a graphics supercomputer and three dozen computer
workstations. The end result is a neural journey through time that allows
researchers to track three-dimensional changes from one year to the next in an
individual with a precision never before possible.
"You are looking
at a very sensitive measure of how the brain is changing and how rapidly it is
changing," said UCLA neurologist Arthur W. Toga, director of the neuro-imaging
laboratory and the senior researcher overseeing the study.
The team followed a
half dozen children between the ages of 3 and 15, imaging the children
repeatedly over the years to create a unique fingerprint of their maturing
brains. The children were scanned at intervals ranging from two weeks to four
Much of the most intense growth was concentrated in a bundle of nerve
tissue called the corpus callosum that serves as the central communications
conduit connecting the two hemispheres of the brain.
In the youngest
children studied-between 3 and 6 years old-the researchers discovered extremely
rapid growth spurts in brain regions responsible for learning new skills and for learning to think
ahead. The scans showed peak growth rates in frontal circuits of the brain that help focus attention, maintain alertness and to plan new actions.
"In the very
youngest children, there really is this furious growth going on in the frontal
circuits of the brain," said UCLA neurologist Paul Thompson, who helped develop
the new mapping technique. "You see this extraordinary wave of peak growth
that proceeds from the front of the brain to the back"
Among the youngest
children, these communications lines grew fastest where they are linked to the
frontal cortex "Those are areas that
would handle the learning of new behaviors, the planning of new actions, the
overall organization of new skills," he said.
March 9, 2000, p. A3. Emphases
recognizes the necessity of proper left-right brain integration and
coordination as one of the best ways to help struggling children.
Many thinking processes depend on this coordination.
The Sharper Minds program
retraces a child or adult's developmental steps to promote connective
neural growth through the corpus callosum.
This can produce the permanent neural changes that psychotropic
medications cannot. For more
information, call 503-641-5707 or toll free 1-866-HELP-ADD (1-866-435-7233)
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