NIH Releases First Dataset from Study on Adolescent Brain Development

The National Institutes of Health has released data from the first 4500 patients in the ABCD study.

Nora D. Volkow, MD

The National Institutes of Health recently released a dataset from the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States, including information from the first 4500 participants.

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study consists of 7637 participants aged 9 and 10 years old thus far—6399 individuals and 1238 twins and multiple siblings. The team has a goal of enrolling 11,500 participants by the end of the year.

The data will be made available through the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)’s data archive—accessible by researchers with an NIMH data archive account. The investigation is planned to span 10 years, with data collected on a semi-annual and annual basis via interviews and behavioral tests.

“By sharing this interim baseline dataset with researchers now, the ABCD study is enabling scientists to begin analyzing and publishing novel research on the developing adolescent brain,” Nora D. Volkow, MD, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), said in a statement. “As expected, drug use is minimal among this young cohort, which is critical because it will allow us to compare brain images before and after substance use begins within individuals who start using, providing needed insight into how experimentation with drugs, alcohol and nicotine affect developing brains.”

The ABCD investigators will seek to address multiple questions related to the development of adolescent brains in order to better inform physicians in treatment and intervention, as well as strategies for public health and policy. The data will be analyzed among subgroups for sex, racial/ethnic group, and socioeconomic status.

Joshua A. Gordon, MD, PhD

The questions and insight the team will seek to answer and gain include how sports injuries impact developmental outcomes; the relationship between screen time and brain and social development; the occasional versus regular use of substances such as alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana and their effects on learning and the developing brain; the factors that contribute to achievement gaps; how sleep, nutrition, and physical activity affect learning, brain development and other health outcomes across racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups; which brain pathways are associated with the onset and progression of mental health disorders and if they pathways differ by sex; the relationship between substance use and mental illness; and how genetic and environmental factors contribute to brain development.

“Sharing ABCD data and other related datasets with the research community, in an infrastructure that allows easy query, data access, and cloud computation, will help us understand many aspects of health and human development,” Joshua A. Gordon, MD, PhD, the director of NIMH, said in a statement. “These datasets provide extraordinary opportunities for computational neuroscientists to address problems with direct public health relevance.”

The records will also include neuroimaging data collected every 2 years, including high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging, with the purpose of analyzing brain structure and formation changes.

“The collection and release of this baseline data is a crucial step in ongoing efforts to sharpen our understanding of the link between adolescent alcohol use and long-term harmful effects on brain development and function,” George F. Koob, PhD, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), said in a statement.

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