The Developmental Trajectory of Brain-Scalp Distance from Birth through Childhood: Implications for Functional Neuroimaging
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0024981
Measurements of human brain function in children are of increasing interest in cognitive neuroscience. Many techniques for brain mapping used in children, including functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography (MEG) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), use probes placed on or near the scalp. The distance between the scalp and the brain is a key variable for these techniques because optical, electrical and magnetic signals are attenuated by distance. However, little is known about how scalp-brain distance differs between different cortical regions in children or how it changes with development. We investigated scalp-brain distance in 71 children, from newborn to age 12 years, using structural T1-weighted MRI scans of the whole head. Three-dimensional reconstructions were created from the scalp surface to allow for accurate calculation of brain-scalp distance. Nine brain landmarks in different cortical regions were manually selected in each subject based on the published fNIRS literature. Significant effects were found for age, cortical region and hemisphere. Brain-scalp distances were lowest in young children, and increased with age to up to double the newborn distance. There were also dramatic differences between brain regions, with up to 50% differences between landmarks. In frontal and temporal regions, scalp-brain distances were significantly greater in the right hemisphere than in the left hemisphere. The largest contributors to developmental changes in brain-scalp distance were increases in the corticospinal fluid (CSF) and inner table of the cranium. These results have important implications for functional imaging studies of children: age and brain-region related differences in fNIRS signals could be due to the confounding factor of brain-scalp distance and not true differences in brain activity.