Brain Development During the Preschool Years

Abstract

The preschool years represent a time of expansive mental growth, with the initial expression of many psychological abilities that will continue to be refined into young adulthood. Likewise, brain development during this age is characterized by its “blossoming” nature, showing some of its most dynamic and elaborative anatomical and physiological changes. In this article, we review human brain development during the preschool years, sampling scientific evidence from a variety of sources. First, we cover neurobiological foundations of early postnatal development, explaining some of the primary mechanisms seen at a larger scale within neuroimaging studies. Next, we review evidence from both structural and functional imaging studies, which now accounts for a large portion of our current understanding of typical brain development. Within anatomical imaging, we focus on studies of developing brain morphology and tissue properties, including diffusivity of white matter fiber tracts. We also present new data on changes during the preschool years in cortical area, thickness, and volume. Physiological brain development is then reviewed, touching on influential results from several different functional imaging and recording modalities in the preschool and early school-age years, including positron emission tomography (PET), electroencephalography (EEG) and event-related potentials (ERP), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), magnetoencephalography (MEG), and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). Here, more space is devoted to explaining some of the key methodological factors that are required for interpretation. We end with a section on multimodal and multidimensional imaging approaches, which we believe will be critical for increasing our understanding of brain development and its relationship to cognitive and behavioral growth in the preschool years and beyond.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (RC2DA029475, R01HD061414). Some data used in preparation of this article were obtained from the Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition, and Genetics Study (PING) database. A complete listing of PING investigators can be found at http://ping.chd.ucsd.edu. PING data are disseminated by the PING Coordinating Center at the Center for Human Development, University of California, San Diego.

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Correspondence to Timothy T. Brown.

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Brown, T.T., Jernigan, T.L. Brain Development During the Preschool Years. Neuropsychol Rev 22, 313–333 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11065-012-9214-1

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Keywords

  • Human brain development
  • Preschool
  • Developmental cognitive neuroscience
  • Pediatric neuropsychology
  • Functional neuroimaging
  • Structural neuroimaging
  • MRI
  • fMRI
  • MEG
  • PET
  • EEG
  • ERP
  • NIRS
  • DTI