In the human brain, myelination of axons continues until early adulthood and is thought to be important for the development of cognitive functions during childhood. We used diffusion tensor MR imaging and calculated fractional anisotropy, an indicator of myelination and axonal thickness, in children aged between 8 and 18 years. Development of working memory capacity was positively correlated with fractional anisotropy in two regions in the left frontal lobe, including a region between the superior frontal and parietal cortices.
Reading ability, on the other hand, was only correlated with fractional anisotropy in the left temporal lobe, in the same white matter region where adults with reading disability are known to have lower fractional anisotropy. Both the temporal and the frontal regions were also correlated with age. These results show that maturation of white matter is an important part of brain maturation during childhood, and that maturation of relatively restricted regions of white matter is correlated with development of specific cognitive functions.