Brain structural development continues throughout adolescence, when experimentation with alcohol is often initiated. To parse contributions from biological and environmental factors on neurodevelopment, this study used baseline National Consortium on Alcohol and NeuroDevelopment in Adolescence (NCANDA) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data, acquired in 674 adolescents meeting no/low alcohol or drug use criteria and 134 adolescents exceeding criteria. Spatial integrity of images across the 5 recruitment sites was assured by morphological scaling using Alzheimer's disease neuroimaging initiative phantom-derived volume scalar metrics. Clinical MRI readings identified structural anomalies in 11.4%. Cortical volume and thickness were smaller and white matter volumes were larger in older than in younger adolescents. Effects of sex (male > female) and ethnicity (majority > minority) were significant for volume and surface but minimal for cortical thickness. Adjusting volume and area for supratentorial volume attenuated or removed sex and ethnicity effects. That cortical thickness showed age-related decline and was unrelated to supratentorial volume is consistent with the radial unit hypothesis, suggesting a universal neural development characteristic robust to sex and ethnicity. Comparison of NCANDA with PING data revealed similar but flatter, age-related declines in cortical volumes and thickness. Smaller, thinner frontal, and temporal cortices in the exceeds-criteria than no/low-drinking group suggested untoward effects of excessive alcohol consumption on brain structural development.

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