The maturational schedule of human brain development appears to be narrowly confined. The chronological age of an individual can be predicted from brain images with considerable accuracy, and deviation from the typical pattern of brain maturation has been related to cognitive performance. Methods using multi-modal data, or complex measures derived from voxels throughout the brain have shown the greatest accuracy, but are difficult to interpret in terms of the biology. Measures based on the cortical surface(s) have yielded less accurate predictions, suggesting that perhaps developmental changes related to cortical gray matter are not strongly related to chronological age, and that perhaps development is more strongly related to changes in subcortical regions or in deep white matter. We show that a simple metric based on the white/gray contrast at the inner border of the cortical gray-matter is a comparably good predictor of chronological age, and our usage of an elastic net penalized linear regression model reveals the brain regions which contribute most to age-prediction. We demonstrate this in two large datasets: the NIH Pediatric Data, with 832 scans of typically developing children, adolescents, and young adults; and the Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition, and Genetics data, with 760 scans of individuals in a similar age-range. Moreover, we show that the residuals of age-prediction based on this white/gray contrast metric are more strongly related to IQ than are those from cortical thickness, suggesting that this metric is more sensitive to aspects of brain development that reflect cognitive performance.
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