Symposia > Baldeweg

Advances in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience

Chairs:  Torsten Baldeweg

 University College London (UCL), London, UK


The field of developmental cognitive neuroscience has undergone considerable expansion
and methodological innovation in the past decade, creating fascinating insights into the
emergence of brain-behaviour relationships in the developing human brain. This has also
resulted in much deeper understanding of the impact of genetic and neurological injury on
brain development with important implications for life long cognitive health. The scientists
who are participating in this symposium have been at the forefront of many of these
developments and will present their latest findings from a wide variety of fields.

Talk 1:

 Development and Training induced Plasticity of Working Memory

Torkel Klingberg
Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

Working memory (WM) is closely related to top-down attention, with both functions
depending on a common network of frontal and parietal regions. WM is important for
academic performance and impairments are associated with distractibility and inattention
in several clinically defined groups, such as in ADHD. WM is thus a key function for
cognitive development during childhood and it is important to find out factors contributing
to its development.
In a longitudinal study of 6-20 year old individuals, followed over 4 years, we investigated
how genetic polymorphisms, environmental factors and brain development is associated
with development of WM capacity. Several genes, including SNAP25, COMT and MAO-A,
affect brain development and WM. Structural maturation predicts future WM capacity.
Parietal brain activity during WM trials was also a predictor of future math performance.
Klingberg and collaborators have also developed and tested a computerized method for
training WM. Several studies have shown that WM can be improved by this method, and
that performance improves also on non-trained tasks demanding WM. Moreover,
improving WM also decreases the symptoms of inattention in everyday life. This has now
been confirmed by several, independent research groups. Klingberg and colleagues has
also shown that training of WM changes brain activity in frontal and parietal regions, and
is associated with changes in the density of dopamine D1-receptors in the cortex.
Training of WM might thus be a non-pharmacological way to address the key cognitive
function in children with low WM. Future question concern which other cognitive functions
that can be trained, and how strong transfer is between functions.

Talk 2:

Anatomical and functional connectivity keystones in brain maturation and in language development.

 Jens Brauer
 Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany

Language processing in the human brain is mainly accomplished by a network of perisylvian frontal and temporal brain regions. Differences in the language networks of adults and children are observed in low frequency fluctuations of the BOLD signal in response to language processing. Correlations in these fluctuations across the brain yield strong ipsilateral findings between frontal and temporal language areas in adults, but not in children. Children instead show stronger correlations to contralateral homolog regions. A complementary aspect of this functional network is its structural connectivity as in the course of language acquisition during childhood, linguistic abilities are established and improved while the brain matures simultaneously. Combining functional and structural data shows that children not only employ the cortical areas of the language network differently compared to adults, moreover, they also show that their use of these functional areas is related to the maturational status of the underlying white matter. Taken together, the available data suggest that the full mastery of language depends on a neural network which guarantees the functional interplay between language regions.

Talk 3:

Development of speech and articulation and their disruption due to genetic modification and neurological injury.

Frederique Liegeois
University College London (UCL), Institute of Child Health, London, UK

The identification of the first gene involved in a speech-language disorder was made
possible through the study of a British multi-generational family (the "KE family") in whom
half the members have an inherited speech-language disorder caused by a FOXP2
mutation. I will review neuroimaging investigations in the affected members of the KE
family which have revealed structural and functional abnormalities in a wide cortical-
subcortical network. In the second part of my talk I will review evidence on the normal
development of functional and structural maturation of neural systems underlying speech
production and will show examples how neurological events during development-such as
traumatic brain injury, brain surgery, or preterm birth- can disrupt these processes.

Talk 4:

Cognitive Development under conditions of chronic hypoxia: The Bolivian Children Living at Altitude (BoCLA) Project.

Alexandra Hogan
University College London Hospital, NHS Trust; UCL Institute of Child Health; and William Harvey Research Institute, Barts & The London Hospitals, NHS Trust, London, UK

Millions of people currently live at altitudes in excess of 2500 metres, where oxygen
supply is limited, but very little is known about the development of brain and behavioural
function under such hypoxic conditions. We describe the physiological (including
transcranial doppler, EEG and ERP), cognitive and behavioural profile of a large cohort of
infants (6-12 months), children (6-10 years) and adolescents (13-16 years) who were born
and are living at four altitude locations in Bolivia (from 500m up to over 4000m). Level of
haemoglobin oxygen saturation was significantly lower in all age groups living above 2500
metres, confirming the presence of hypoxia, but without any detectable detriment to
health. Only subtle neuropsychological changes were found below 3800m. Importantly,
the proportion of European, Native American and African genetic admixture was
comparable across altitude groups, suggesting that adaptation to high altitude in these
children occurred in response to chronic hypoxic exposure irrespective of ethnic origin.
Interestingly, above 4000m there were more changes, suggesting an altitude threshold
over which the ability of the developing brain to adapt to hypoxia may be less effective.
These BoCLA data have potential implications for public health and for our understanding
of neurocognitive outcome in children living at sea-level with pathological forms of mild

Online user: 1 RSS Feed