Early adolescent brain markers of late adolescent academic functioning

  • Alejandro Daniel Meruelo
  • Joanna Jacobus
  • Erick Idy
  • Tam Nguyen-Louie
  • Gregory Brown
  • Susan Frances Tapert
Original Research


Academic performance in adolescence strongly influences adult prospects. Intelligence quotient (IQ) has historically been considered a strong predictor of academic performance. Less objectively explored have been morphometric features. We analyzed brain MRI morphometry metrics in early adolescence (age 12–14 years) as quantitative predictors of academic performance over high school using a naïve Bayesian classifier approach with n = 170 subjects. Based on the mean GPA, subjects were divided into high (GPA ≥3.54; n = 87) and low (GPA <3.54; n = 83) academic performers. Covariance analysis was performed to look at the influence of subject demographics. We examined predictive features from the 343 available regions (surface areas, cortical thickness, and subcortical volumes) and applied 4 algorithms for selection and reduction of attributes using Weka. Cortical thickness measures performed better than surface areas or subcortical volumes as predictors of academic performance. We identified 15 cortical thickness regions most predictive of academic performance, three of which have not been described in the literature predictive of academic performance. These were in the left hemisphere fusiform, bilateral insula, and left hemisphere paracentral regions. Prediction had a sensitivity of 0.65 and specificity of 0.73 with independent validation. Follow-up independent t-test analyses between high and low academic achievers on 10 of 15 regions showed between-group significance at the p < 0.05 level. High achievers demonstrated thicker cortices than low achievers. These newly identified regions may help pinpoint new targets for further study in understanding the developing adolescent brain in the classroom setting.


naïve Bayesian classifier Academic performance Adolescence Magnetic resonance imaging Cortical thickness 



This work was made possible by the National Institute of Mental Health grant R25 MH101072 and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism grant R01 AA013419-14S1 that support Research Track Resident Alejandro Meruelo, MD, PhD. Data were collected through the Youth at Risk (YAR) project by means of research grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism R01 AA013419 (PI: Tapert).

Compliance with ethical standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The study was approved by the UCSD under the UCSD Human Research Protections Program (Project #090269).

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from the parents/guardians/LAR for all participants included in the study.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary Table 1 (DOCX 37 kb)
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Supplementary Table 2 (DOCX 35 kb)
11682_2018_9912_MOESM3_ESM.docx (35 kb)
Supplementary Table 3 (DOCX 34 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of California San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  2. 2.San Diego State University/University of California San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical PsychologySan DiegoUSA
  3. 3.VA San Diego Healthcare SystemLa JollaUSA

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