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Developmental Changes of Prefrontal Activation in Humans: A Near-Infrared Spectroscopy Study of Preschool Children and Adults

Public Library of Science
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0025944
  • Research Article
  • Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Evolutionary Developmental Biology
  • Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Working Memory
  • Neurophysiology
  • Central Nervous System
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology
  • Medicine
  • Mental Health
  • Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Pediatrics
  • Developmental And Pediatric Neurology
  • Social And Behavioral Sciences
  • Physics


Previous morphological studies indicated that development of the human prefrontal cortex (PFC) appears to continue into late adolescence. Although functional brain imaging studies have sought to determine the time course of functional development of the PFC, it is unclear whether the developmental change occurs after adolescence to adulthood and when it achieves a peak because of the narrow or discontinuous range in the participant's age. Moreover, previous functional studies have not focused on the anterior frontal region, that is, the frontopolar regions (BA9/10). Thus, the present study investigated the developmental change in frontopolar PFC activation associated with letter fluency task by using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), in subjects from preschool children to adults. We analyzed the relative concentration of hemoglobin (ΔHb) in the prefrontal cortex measured during the activation task in 48 typically-developing children and adolescents and 22 healthy adults. Consistent with prior morphological studies, we found developmental change with age in the children/adolescents. Moreover, the average Δoxy-Hb in adult males was significantly larger than that in child/adolescent males, but was not true for females. These data suggested that functional development of the PFC continues into late adolescence. Although the developmental change of the frontopolar PFC was independent of gender from childhood to adolescence, in adulthood a gender difference was shown.

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