New evidence confirms link between IQ and brain cortex
Montreal scientists play key role in long-term international study
Rate of change in the thickness of the brain’s cortex is an important factor associated with a person’s change in IQ, according to a collaborative study by scientists in five countries including researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital – The Neuro, at McGill University and the McGill University Health Centre. The study has potentially wide-ranging implications for the pedagogical world and for judicial cases in which the defendant’s IQ score could play a role in determining the severity of the sentence.
The cortex is the thin, outermost layer of nerve cell tissue of the brain, typically measuring a few millimeters in thickness. The cortex contains nerve cell bodies and is critical for cognitive functions such as perception, language, memory and consciousness.
“Often, small differences in IQ scores are observed when people’s IQs are tested twice over a period of time. However, in some instances, dramatic changes in IQ scores are observed,” said Dr. Sherif Karama, assistant professor of psychiatry at McGill University, psychiatrist at Douglas Mental Health University Institute and affiliate at The Neuro where he conducted the study published in the scientific journal, Neuro Image. “These dramatic changes are generally attributed to measurement errors rather than assumed to reflect real changes in general cognitive ability.”
The cortex begins to thin after the age of five or six as part of the normal aging process. This study by Professor Karama and his colleagues involved 188 children and adolescents over a period of two years. MRIs of the study participants were taken at six sites across the US. This study is the first to show the association between cortical thickness and development in full scale IQ. They found that within a relatively short period of 2 years:
- people with a significant increase in IQ did not have the expected cortical thinning,
- people whose IQ stayed the same had the normal expected cortical thinning,
- people with a significant decrease in IQ had exaggerated cortical thinning.
“Finding that IQ is not fixed and correlates to changes in brain anatomy has important implications as it shows that some of the changes in IQ are real and not merely due to measurement error. This finding should make people wary of sticking to an early IQ assessment given the role it plays in school entrance criteria, detection of the gifted, as well as in eligibility for social security disability income or even the death penalty. In some US states, people with an IQ below 70 are not eligible for the death penalty.”
The reasons behind the changes in IQ are not clear at this point. Some of these may be due to programmed developmental trajectories or other factors such as nutrition and education, noted Professor Karama.
The study was undertaken jointly by scientists at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Fundacion CIEN/Fundacion Reina Sofia and the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain, the University of Edinburgh, UK, the Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University, USA, at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, as well as at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, Canada. The project was conducted by the Brain Development Cooperative Group and supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institutes of Health, the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé, the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, and the Alianza 4 Universidades.
This paper was published in the January 2014 issue of NeuroImage: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811913009749
The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital — The Neuro, is a unique academic medical centre dedicated to neuroscience. Founded in 1934 by the renowned Dr. Wilder Penfield, The Neuro is recognized internationally for integrating research, compassionate patient care and advanced training, all key to advances in science and medicine. The Neuro is a research and teaching institute of McGill University and forms the basis for the Neuroscience Mission of the McGill University Health Centre. Neuro researchers are world leaders in cellular and molecular neuroscience, brain imaging, cognitive neuroscience and the study and treatment of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and neuromuscular disorders. For more information, visit theneuro.com.
Further Readings of Interest
Effects of age and symptomatology on cortical thickness in autism spectrum disorders.
Several brain regions show structural and functional abnormalities in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), but the developmental trajectory of abnormalities in these structures and how they may relate to social and communicative impairments are still unclear. We assessed the effects of age on cortical thickness in individuals with ASD, between the ages of 7 and 39 years in comparison to typically developing controls. Additionally, we examined differences in cortical thickness in relation to symptomatology in the ASD group, and their association with age. Analyses were conducted using a general linear model, controlling for sex. Social and communication scores from the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) were correlated with the thickness of regions implicated in those functions.
Controls showed widespread cortical thinning relative to the ASD group. Within regions-of-interest, increased thickness in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex was associated with poorer social scores. Additionally, a significant interaction between age and social impairment was found in the orbitofrontal cortex, with more impaired younger children having decreased thickness in this region. These results suggest that differential neurodevelopmental trajectories are present in individuals with ASD and some differences are associated with diagnostic behaviours.