Associations between the size of the amygdala in infancy and language abilities during the preschool years in normally developing children

Silvia Ortiz-Mantilla, Myong sun Choe, Judy Flax, P. Ellen Grant, April A. Benasich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Recently, structural MRI studies in children have been used to examine relations between brain volume and behavioral measures. However, most of these studies have been done in children older than 2 years of age. Obtaining volumetric measures in infants is considerably more difficult, as structures are less well defined and largely unmyelinated, making segmentation challenging. Moreover, it is still unclear whether individual anatomic variation across development, in healthy, normally developing infants, is reflected in the configuration and function of the mature brain and, as importantly, whether variation in infant brain structure might be related to later cognitive and linguistic abilities. In this longitudinal study, using T1 structural MRI, we identified links between amygdala volume in normally developing, naturally sleeping, 6-month infants and their subsequent language abilities at 2, 3 and 4 years. The images were processed and manually segmented using Cardviews to extract volumetric measures. Intra-rater reliability for repeated segmentation was 87.73% of common voxel agreement. Standardized language assessments were administered at 6 and 12 months and at 2, 3 and 4 years. Significant and consistent correlations were found between amygdala size and language abilities. Children with larger right amygdalae at 6 months had lower scores on expressive and receptive language measures at 2, 3, and 4 years. Associations between amygdala size and language outcomes have been reported in children with autism. The findings presented here extend this association to normally developing children, supporting the idea that the amygdalae might play an important but as yet unspecified role in mediating language acquisition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2791-2799
Number of pages9
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


  • Amygdala
  • Emotion
  • Infant
  • Language development
  • Naturally sleeping MRI


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