While it isn’t uncommon for people to lie about their age — often passing for someone much older or younger — researchers have found that sophisticated brain scans can be used to accurately pinpoint age, give or take a year.
“We have uncovered a ‘developmental clock’ of sorts within the brain — a biological signature of maturation that captures age differences quite well, regardless of other kinds of differences that exist across individuals,” said Timothy Brown, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
Together with researchers from nine other universities, Brown used structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of 885 people ranging in age from 3 to 20.
Those scans were used to identify 231 biomarkers of brain anatomy that, when combined, could assess an individual’s age with more than 92 percent accuracy.
That’s beyond what’s been possible with any other biological measure.
“The fact that we found a collection of brain measures that so accurately captures a person’s chronological age means that brain development, or at least certain anatomical aspects of it, is more tightly controlled than we knew previously,” Brown said.
“The regularity in this maturity metric among typically developing children suggests that it might be sensitive to detecting abnormality as well.”
He added it’s not clear how these anatomical changes in the brain relate to maturity in terms of human behavior.
“The anatomy and physiology of these dynamic, interacting neural systems, which we can probe in different ways with MRI scans, have to account for the changes we all observe in human psychological development,” Brown said. “We’re still figuring out exactly how.”
Source: Cell Press