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Keywords:

  • development;
  • cognitive neuroscience;
  • cognitive control;
  • executive functions;
  • fMRI;
  • motor inhibition

Abstract

Inhibitory and performance-monitoring functions have been shown to develop throughout adolescence. The developmental functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) literature on inhibitory control, however, has been relatively inconsistent with respect to functional development of prefrontal cortex in the progression from childhood to adulthood. Age-related performance differences between adults and children have been shown to be a confound and may explain inconsistencies in findings. The development of error-related processes has not been studied so far using fMRI. The aim of this study was to investigate the neural substrates of the development of inhibitory control and error-related functions by use of an individually adjusted task design that forced subjects to fail on 50% of trials, and therefore controlled for differences in task difficulty and performance between different age groups. Event-related fMRI was used to compare brain activation between 21 adults and 26 children/adolescents during successful motor inhibition and inhibition failure. Adults compared with children/adolescents showed increased brain activation in right inferior prefrontal cortex during successful inhibition and in anterior cingulate during inhibition failure. A whole-brain age-regression analysis between 10 and 42 years showed progressive age-related changes in activation in these two brain regions, with additional changes in thalamus, striatum, and cerebellum. Age-correlated brain regions correlated with each other and with inhibitory performance, suggesting they form developing fronto-striato-thalamic and fronto-cerebellar neural pathways for inhibitory control. This study shows developmental specialization of the integrated function of right inferior prefrontal cortex, basal ganglia, thalamus, and cerebellum for inhibitory control and of anterior cingulate gyrus for error-related processes. Hum Brain Mapp 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.