For those who claim to perpetually be 29, it could be bad news.
Researchers have found a ‘developmental clock’ inside our brain that can reveal, to within a year, exactly how old we really are.
They say the discovery could have major implications for medicine, and gives new insight into how our brains change over time.
‘We have uncovered a ‘developmental clock’ of sorts within the brain—a biological signature of maturation that captures age differences quite well, regardless of other kinds of differences that exist across individuals,” says Timothy Brown of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
He used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of 885 people ranging in age from 3 to 20.
Those brain scans were used to identify 231 biomarkers of brain anatomy that, when combined, could assess an individual’s age with more than 92 percent accuracy.
That’s beyond what’s been possible with any other biological measure, the researchers say.
While others had looked at some of the same brain biomarkers in the past one by one, the key was finding a way to combine them to capture the multidimensional nature of brain anatomy and characteristic patterns of developmental change with age.
Brown says that they are excited to further explore the new approach and its potential for use in the clinic.
‘The fact that we found a collection of brain measures that so accurately captures a person’s chronological age means that brain development, or at least certain anatomical aspects of it, is more tightly controlled than we knew previously,’ Brown says.
‘The regularity in this maturity metric among typically developing children suggests that it might be sensitive to detecting abnormality as well.’
It’s not yet clear how these anatomical changes in the brain will relate to maturity in terms of human behavior, which we all know isn’t necessarily reflected by our chronological age.
Professor Rhoshel Lenroot from Neuroscience Research Australia told ABC the research could help understand the mechanisms underlying disorders such as ADHD and autism.
‘One of the big questions that we’ve had is, are neurodevelopmental disorders to do with the rate of development or are they just wrong development,’ says Lenroot.
‘It would be marvellous to be able to look at that same data set and track this combined phenotype and say, ‘does it really look like it was just slow or is there something that is looking different?’