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Brain charts for the human lifespan

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Abstract: Over the past few decades, neuroimaging has become a ubiquitous tool in basic research and clinical studies of the human brain. However, no reference standards currently exist to quantify individual differences in neuroimaging metrics over time, in contrast to growth charts for anthropometric traits such as height and weight1. Here we assemble an interactive open resource to benchmark brain morphology derived from any current or future sample of MRI data ( With the goal of basing these reference charts on the largest and most inclusive dataset available, acknowledging limitations due to known biases of MRI studies relative to the diversity of the global population, we aggregated 123,984 MRI scans, across more than 100 primary studies, from 101,457 human participants between 115 days post-conception to 100 years of age. MRI metrics were quantified by centile scores, relative to non-linear trajectories2 of brain structural changes, and rates of change, over the lifespan. Brain charts identified previously unreported neurodevelopmental milestones3, showed high stability of individuals across longitudinal assessments, and demonstrated robustness to technical and methodological differences between primary studies. Centile scores showed increased heritability compared with non-centiled MRI phenotypes, and provided a standardized measure of atypical brain structure that revealed patterns of neuroanatomical variation across neurological and psychiatric disorders. In summary, brain charts are an essential step towards robust quantification of individual variation benchmarked to normative trajectories in multiple, commonly used neuroimaging phenotypes.

Biography: Dr Richard Bethlehem is currently a Research Associate at the Brain Mapping Unit and Director of Neuroimaging at the Autism Research Centre, both in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge. His research aims at gaining a better understanding of genetic underpinnings of typical and atypical neurodevelopment by integrating cutting-edge neuroimaging and transcriptomics techniques. Increasingly, this involves the use of large neuroimaging and genetic datasets such as the UK BioBank and ABCD cohorts as well as machine learning methods to delineate highly complex data. In Cambridge he maintains close collaboration with Profs. Bullmore and Baron-Cohen as well as with Prof. Pietro Lio at the Computer Sciences department at Cambridge, the Geschwind and Gandal labs at UCLA , the Multimodal Imaging and Connectome Analysis lab at the MNI led by Dr. Boris Bernhardt, the Brain-Gene-Development lab at the CHOP Research Institute led by Dr. Aaron Alexander-Bloch as well as with The University of York through his collaboration with Prof. Beth Jefferies. For detailed biography of Dr Bethlehem, please visit:

This talk is part of the Department of Psychiatry & CPFT Thursday Lunchtime Seminar Series series.

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