Teen Study Offers Clues to Timing of Mental Illness

Changes that occur in teens’ brains as they mature may help explain why the first signs of mental illness tend to appear during this time, researchers report.

British researchers used MRI scans to compare the brain structures of nearly 300 participants who were aged 14 to 24.

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The scientists discovered that the brain’s outer region (cortex) becomes thinner as teens get older. At the same time, they saw that levels of myelin increased within the cortex. That increase was seen in critical regions of the brain that act as connection points between other regions. Myelin is the sheath that covers nerve fibers and enables them to communicate efficiently.

“During our teenage years, our brains continue to develop. When we’re still children, these changes may be more dramatic, but in adolescence we see that the changes refine the detail,” explained study first author Kirstie Whitaker, from the department of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge.