The Speed of Development of Adolescent Brain Age Depends on Sex and Is Genetically Determined

Rachel M Brouwer, Jelle Schutte, Ronald Janssen, Dorret I Boomsma, Hilleke E Hulshoff Pol, Hugo G Schnack

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Children and adolescents show high variability in brain development. Brain age-the estimated biological age of an individual brain-can be used to index developmental stage. In a longitudinal sample of adolescents (age 9-23 years), including monozygotic and dizygotic twins and their siblings, structural magnetic resonance imaging scans (N = 673) at 3 time points were acquired. Using brain morphology data of different types and at different spatial scales, brain age predictors were trained and validated. Differences in brain age between males and females were assessed and the heritability of individual variation in brain age gaps was calculated. On average, females were ahead of males by at most 1 year, but similar aging patterns were found for both sexes. The difference between brain age and chronological age was heritable, as was the change in brain age gap over time. In conclusion, females and males show similar developmental ("aging") patterns but, on average, females pass through this development earlier. Reliable brain age predictors may be used to detect (extreme) deviations in developmental state of the brain early, possibly indicating aberrant development as a sign of risk of neurodevelopmental disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1296-1306
Number of pages11
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number2
Early online date19 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jan 2021


  • brain age
  • heritability
  • longitudinal imaging
  • sex differences
  • structural brain development


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