Human brain morphology undergoes complex developmental changes with diverse regional
trajectories. Various biological factors influence cortical thickness development, but human data
are scarce. Building on methodological advances in neuroimaging of large cohorts, we show that
population-based developmental trajectories of cortical thickness unfold along patterns of
molecular and cellular brain organization. During childhood and adolescence, distributions of
dopaminergic receptors, inhibitory neurons, glial cell populations as well as features of brain
metabolism explain up to 50% of variance associated with regional cortical thickness trajectories.
Cortical maturation patterns in later life are best explained by distributions of cholinergic and
glutamatergic systems. These observations are validated in longitudinal data from over 8,000
adolescents, explaining up to 59% of developmental change at population- and 18% at singlesubject
level. Integrating multilevel brain atlases with normative modeling and population
neuroimaging provides a biologically and clinically meaningful path to understand typical and
atypical brain development in living humans.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2023


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