Brain Fingerprinting Adolescents Could Predict Future Mental-Health Issues

New research has demonstrated how the uniqueness of the brain of an adolescent may forecast mental-health outcomes. For this study, researchers focused on the adolescent brain, as changes during this period are dynamic and rapid and help form every individual’s uniqueness.

Additionally, most mental-health conditions show up during this period, with more than one-half occurring by the time a child is 14 and about three-quarters of mental-health conditions occurring by the time an individual is 25 years of age.

The researchers hypothesize that observing and tracking changes in the brain as they occur may make it easier to tackle emerging mental-health issues during adolescence and begin early treatment. The scientists involved in the study, who are with the world-first Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study, used brain fingerprinting to show how changes in the brain may clue clinicians in on future mental-health outcomes and allow for early intervention.

They explained that much like fingerprints, every human has a unique brain profile of signals between regions in the brain that became more specialized and individual as individuals grew older. The investigators’ study involved 125 participants, all aged 12 years and older, who cumulatively had more than 500 EEG and MRI scans taken every four months to track their brain development during adolescence.

The research, which also conducted cognitive and psychological evaluations, captures mental health and brain development in the adolescents over a five-year period. The investigators examined the functional connectome of every individual, which is the system of neural pathways that are active in their brains. This led the researchers to discover that the uniqueness of these characteristics could help predict a mental-health outcome.

In their report, the researchers revealed they took the MRI scans while the participants were in a resting state, because this afforded them more information about brain activity, including how it kept connections running. They also discovered the presence of whole-brain connectomes, which were both functional and unique. They also found that a network involved in controlling behavior that was goal directed was similar across different individuals.

In their report, the scientists explained that the extent of this network’s uniqueness could forecast the symptoms of depression and anxiety that may show up later. They also noted that individuals with less-unique brains experienced higher distress levels as they grew older.

The researchers are now focused on finding out why some teenagers have a heightened risk of experiencing mental distress when compared to others. They hypothesize that the maturation level in the network in the brain that involves goal-directed behavior may have something to do with this.

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