Glossary

arborization From the Latin word for tree, the process of brain cells growing extra "branches, twigs, and roots.''

corpus callosum A collection of myelinated neuronal axons connecting similar areas of the left and right cerebral hemispheres.

magnetic resonance imaging A technique that combines a powerful magnet, radio waves, and computer technology to acquire images of the human brain without the use of harmful radiation.

pruning The process by which axonal or dendritic branches are cut back or eliminated.

use-it-or-lose-it principle The hypothesis that brain cells and connections that are used will survive and flourish, whereas those that are not used will wither and perish.

Any parent of a teen can attest that the brain of a 13-year-old is very different from the brain of a 9-year-old. However, actually defining these differences in a scientific way has been elusive, because nature has gone through a great deal of trouble to protect the brain. It is wrapped in a tough, leathery membrane surrounded by a protective moat of fluid and completely encased in bone. This has shielded the brain from falls or attacks from predators but it has also shielded the brain from scientists. However, recent advances in imaging technology now allow us to examine the living, growing human brain as never before. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides exquisitely accurate pictures of brain anatomy. It does so without the use of ionizing radiation, permitting not only the scanning of healthy children and adolescents but also repeat scans of the same individuals throughout their development. In this article, we discuss the anatomical changes that occur in the adolescent brain as detected by MRI.

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