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Neuroimaging & Mechanisms Underlying the Early Development of Executive Functions (Prenatal to Age 4)

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John Gilmore, M.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The first years of life are the most dynamic and perhaps the most critical phase of postnatal brain development. Concurrent with the rapid pace of structural brain growth is an equally rapid development of a wide range of cognitive and motor functions. Despite the importance of understanding normal development and the early origins of neurodevelopmental disorders such as schizophrenia and autism, much needs to be learned about brain development in this crucial time period. We have developed a large prospective cohort of normal- and high-risk children who have had longitudinal structural, DTI, and resting state functional MRIs during the first years of life. Overall, there is enormous growth of gray matter in the first years of life, consistent with synapse development in the cortex. Major white matter tracts are present at birth, and while the overall volume of white matter increases at a rate much slower than gray matter, there is rapid myelination and maturation of diffusion tensor properties in the first two years of life. Resting state functional MRI studies indicate the presence of a primitive default network at birth that increases in complexity during the first two years of life. Studies of structure-function relationships are ongoing and preliminary results of these initial studies will be presented.

Gilmore Presentation Slides (PDF - 1.26 MB)

Biosketch for John Gilmore, M.D.

Dr. John H. Gilmore is the Thad and Alice Eure Distinguished Professor and Vice Chair for Research and Scientific Affairs in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Gilmore’s research focuses on brain development and risk for schizophrenia, and uses structural, diffusion tensor and resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging to study early brain development in normal- and high-risk children, as well as in twins. He currently serves as the principal investigator of grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the NICHD, including the NIMH-sponsored Conte Center for the Neuroscience of Mental Disorders.

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Last Reviewed: 11/30/2012
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