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Seminal human brain histology work has demonstrated developmental waves of myelination. Here, using a micro-structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) marker linked to myelin, we studied fine-grained age differences to deduce waves of growth, stability, and decline of cortical myelination over the life-cycle. In 484 participants, aged 8-85 years, we fitted smooth growth curves to T1- to T2-weighted ratio in each of 360 regions from one of seven cytoarchitectonic classes. From the first derivatives of these generally inverted-U trajectories, we defined three milestones: the age at peak growth; the age at onset of a stable plateau; and the age at the onset of decline. Age at peak growth had a bimodal distribution comprising an early (pre-pubertal) wave of primary sensory and motor cortices and a later (post-pubertal) wave of association, insular and limbic cortices. Most regions reached stability in the 30-s but there was a second wave reaching stability in the 50-s. Age at onset of decline was also bimodal: in some right hemisphere regions, the curve declined from the 60-s, but in other left hemisphere regions, there was no significant decline from the stable plateau. These results are consistent with regionally heterogeneous waves of intracortical myelinogenesis and age-related demyelination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1369-1381
Number of pages13
JournalCerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991)
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


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