Formal education has a long-term impact on an individual’s life. However, our knowledge of the effect of a specific lack of education, such as in mathematics, is currently poor but is highly relevant given the extant differences between countries in their educational curricula and the differences in opportunities to access education. Here we examined whether neurotransmitter concentrations in the adolescent brain could classify whether a student is lacking mathematical education. Decreased γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) concentration within the middle frontal gyrus (MFG) successfully classified whether an adolescent studies math and was negatively associated with frontoparietal connectivity. In a second experiment, we uncovered that our findings were not due to preexisting differences before a mathematical education ceased. Furthermore, we showed that MFG GABA not only classifies whether an adolescent is studying math or not, but it also predicts the changes in mathematical reasoning ∼19 mo later. The present results extend previous work in animals that has emphasized the role of GABA neurotransmission in synaptic and network plasticity and highlight the effect of a specific lack of education on MFG GABA concentration and learning-dependent plasticity. Our findings reveal the reciprocal effect between brain development and education and demonstrate the negative consequences of a specific lack of education during adolescence on brain plasticity and cognitive functions.
2007 Math Forum
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