In DepthNeuroscience

Watching the teen brain grow

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Science  05 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6371, pp. 13-14
DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6371.13

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Adolescence is a time of extraordinarily important brain changes. And thanks to an unprecedented study now being launched, scientists will be able to examine those changes in depth, using MRI to define what normal growth looks like—and helping clarify what can go awry in teenage brains. The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study—or ABCD Study—is a $300 million effort funded by the National Institutes of Health that will scan the brains of some 10,000 U.S. youths, beginning when they are 9 and 10 years old and imaging them every 2 years for 10 years. In addition to collecting scans of brain structure and function, the research teams at 21 study sites around the country will regularly gather a trove of other information from each youngster, from psychological, cognitive, and environmental data to biological specimens such as DNA. The hope is that by enrolling children young, before influences like substance use and sports injuries kick in, scientists will be able to untangle chicken-and-egg questions that correlational studies can't—questions about everything from mental illness to the impact of marijuana on the developing brain. The response so far has been encouraging: Two-thirds of the way through a 2-year enrollment period that ends in September, the researchers have signed up more than 6800 children. And anonymized data from the first 4500 of them are due to be deposited in a publicly accessible database later this month.