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The brain may need iron for healthy cognitive development

Brain iron levels increase during development; may influence cognitive abilities

Society for Neuroscience

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IMAGE: Higher levels of brain iron in the putamen are correlated with greater cognitive abilities. view more 

Credit: Larsen et al., JNeurosci 2020

Iron levels in brain tissue rise during development and are correlated with cognitive abilities, according to research in children and young adults recently published in JNeurosci. Future work could lead to iron supplementation as an intervention for atypical cognitive development.

Brain cells stay healthy in part by storing iron. It is most concentrated in the basal ganglia, a brain region that filters incoming information from moment to moment and suggests the best action to take. Low iron in the basal ganglia during early life is linked to cognitive impairment, yet we don't know how iron levels change during typical development.

Larsen et al. examined brain iron levels through magnetic resonance imaging brain scans from the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort, a dataset of scans from over 1500 children and young adults ranging from age eight to twenty-four. The research team found that brain iron levels in the basal ganglia steadily increase throughout development and, in two subregions, continue to increase into adulthood. Decreased brain iron in one subregion, the putamen, was correlated with impaired performance on cognitive tasks involving reasoning and spatial processing, suggesting that brain iron is needed for healthy cognitive development.

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Manuscript title: Longitudinal Development of Brain Iron Is Linked to Cognition in Youth

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About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today, the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact, while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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