Brain “fingerprints” provide insight into the mental health of young adolescents

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Medical imaging of a person’s unique brain signature, just like a fingerprint, has the potential to predict mental health problems in young teens, according to a world-first study by University of the Sunshine Coast researchers.

In a study published in NeuroimagingResearchers at USC’s Thompson Institute tested the uniqueness of adolescents’ individual brain activity patterns and whether changes in their brain networks were associated with their mental health symptoms at different times.

“We examined whether there were unique patterns of neural activity in brain networks that could be associated with emerging troubling, confused and frustrating feelings experienced by adolescents, particularly those who may be vulnerable to mental health disorders,” said Dr. Shan, head of the Neuroimaging Platform at the Thompson Institute.

Dr Shan, who was the lead author of the study, said the team characterized the development of various brain ‘functional networks’ in young adolescents from brain scans performed every four months on a group of about 70 participants, starting with from the age of 12 up to 15 years.

Each time the scans were performed, participants also filled out questionnaires asking about their feelings over the past 30 days, specifically about their levels of depression and anxiety.

“Findings highlight the importance of longitudinal neuroimaging for monitoring mental health in adolescents – at a time when the brain is growing and changing dramatically in both structure and function – and its potential to detect changes before behaviors occur. abnormal, “said Dr. Shan.

“Given the nature of emerging mental illness in young people, a continuing measure of psychological distress is more likely to reveal important links between neurobiological measures and mental illness.”

Mapping of changes in the brain as they happen

The data was collected as part of the Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study (LABS) by the Thompson Institute, a study designed to track changes in the brain during adolescence and to gain a deeper understanding of the factors that affect adolescent mental health. .

More than half of all mental health problems occur before age 14. In Australia, one in four young people between the ages of 15 and 19 meet the criteria for probable severe mental illness.

The “uniqueness” of the brain signature was determined by how similar an individual was to himself at other times, as well as how similar he was to his peers (other participants).

Key insights into the differences and similarities of young minds

Like a fingerprint, each human brain has a unique profile of signals between different brain regions that becomes more individual and specialized as people get older.

“The brain functions like a symphony orchestra, with activities from different brain areas synchronizing in tune to determine our thoughts and behaviors,” said Dr. Shan.

Unique whole brain synchronization was confirmed in 12-year-olds, with 92% of participants having their own unique functional connectomes or brain “fingerprints”.

Further analysis of 13 individual brain networks found uniqueness in some networks at age 12, while others were still maturing and establishing themselves.

Importantly, the brain network that controls individual “cognitive flexibility” and the ability to handle negative influences, known as the “cingulo-opercular network” (or CON), has low levels of uniqueness.

“This suggests that it has not yet matured and thus provides a biological explanation for the increased vulnerability in young people,” said Dr Shan.

“Combined with the existence of a high level of whole-brain uniqueness, the findings suggested that adolescents are able to engage these systems to regulate daily behavior. But they are not yet doing so in a controlled, sustained and reliable”.

A key finding was that the uniqueness of CON was significantly and negatively associated with subsequent levels of psychological distress when assessed four months later.

“This relationship reflects the importance of CON in adolescent mental health. In future studies, we are planning to unravel whether this reflects a worsening of pre-existing experiences or if a delay in the formation of a single system triggers an increase in psychological distress,” he said. said Dr. Shan.

The networks that showed the greatest uniqueness were the “frontoparietal network”, which is responsible for immediate information processing, and the “default mode network”, which is important for internal cognitive processes, such as thinking about oneself or to the future.

Effects of stress on the “triple network” of adolescent brains

More information:
Zack Y Shan et al, A longitudinal study of the uniqueness of the functional connectome and its association with psychological distress in adolescence, Neuroimaging (2022). DOI: 10.1016 / j.neuroimage.2022.119358

Provided by the University of the Sunshine Coast

Citation: Brain “fingerprinting” provides insights into the mental health of young adolescents (2022, June 16) retrieved June 16, 2022 from

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