ABCD study completes enrollment, announces opportunities for scientific engagement


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The National Institutes of Health announced today that enrollment for the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study is now complete and, in early 2019, scientists will have access to baseline data from all ABCD Study participants.

Image courtesy of Medical University of South Carolina
An ABCD participant in South Carolina preparing for his MRI scan.

There are 11,874 youth, ages 9-10, participating in the study, including 2,100 young people who are twins or triplets. All will be followed through young adulthood.

The ABCD Study is a landmark study on brain development and child health that will increase understanding of environmental, social, genetic, and other biological factors that affect brain and cognitive development and can enhance or disrupt a young person’s life trajectory. Coordinated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the study is supported by eight other NIH institutes and offices, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal partners.

Image courtesy of Richard Watts, PhD, University of Vermont and Fair Neuroimaging Lab, Oregon Health and Science University
fMRI image of preteen brain while child performs a working memory task, released by ABCD researchers. The regions in yellow and red are most active.

The study—being conducted at 21 research sites around the country—will use advanced neuroimaging to observe brain development in children throughout adolescence, while tracking social, behavioral, physical and environmental factors that may affect brain development and other health outcomes.

Anonymized study data are being made available to the broad research community on a regular basis. This will allow scientists to analyze data and ask novel questions that were not even anticipated in the original study planning. Offering these data while the study is in progress means that both ABCD investigators and non-ABCD researchers will have access to the datasets to pursue their own research interests.

There are many health topics that are of interest to researchers, policy makers, educators, parents, and the participants themselves, which scientists can now study using the baseline assessment data. These data can then be tracked over time and used to make predictions as youth develop and are shaped by their life experiences. Scientists can look at brain characteristics associated with impulsive action or early psychopathology; the impact of health behaviors (e.g., sleep, physical activity) on cognitive and brain development; or traits associated with media use, including screen time exposure. For example, a recent study by ABCD investigators showed associations between differing amounts and kinds of screen time (e.g., video games vs. social media) and different structural brain characteristics, psychological traits, and cognitive function. Scientists will be able to follow participants over time to understand how media use will influence a person’s development, underscoring the unique opportunity provided by the ABCD study.

Similarly, researchers can look at risk and resilience factors for mental illness and substance use, including genetics, family history, traits such as impulsivity, and exposure to positive and negative environmental events. With longitudinal data, the developmental trajectories of the participants can be tracked to better understand these complex relationships, and eventually to improve prevention or mitigate risks for adverse outcomes.  

Additional data from the first 4,500 children enrolled in the study will be released this month, and data from the full participant cohort (11,874) will be available in early 2019. In addition, scientists will be able access a new tool through the NIMH Data Archive — the Data Exploration and Analysis Portal (DEAP). DEAP will facilitate analysis of the ABCD data, allowing users to analyze the data online without downloading it, while providing appropriate statistical models and tools that take advantage of the ABCD Study design. DEAP will enhance the ability of researchers to address myriad questions related to adolescent development.

Researchers interested in accessing these data can visit the NIMH Data Archive. As findings are published in various journals by both ABCD investigators and other scientists, study coordinators will continue to post information on the study website at

The ABCD study is supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the National Cancer Institute, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health, and the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with additional partnerships with the National Institute of Justice, the CDC Division of Violence Prevention, the National Science Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. For information on all study sites, go to

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