Summary: Preterm birth was associated with a profound reduction in connectivity between multiple brain regions and with the reconfiguration of the organization of functional brain networks.
Source: King’s College London
Researchers from the £12 million Developing Human Connectome Project have used a novel type of medical imaging to show how different areas of a newborn baby’s brain communicate with each other.
Published today in Brain, the study used magnetic resonance images (MRI) with unprecedented resolution from more than 300 healthy babies to define how healthy babies’ brains are connected, then researchers could assess whether particular clinical risks affected brain development.
They found that in healthy infants born at the right time, connectivity between the brain areas controlling basic functions like sensation and movement was quite similar to that seen in the adult brain. Also, the visual system develops rapidly, probably related to the sudden richness of visual experience after birth.
Communication between parts of the brain linked with more sophisticated functions like decision-making and executive function was relatively reduced compared to adults.
One of the senior researchers Dr Dafnis Batallé said it was found premature birth was associated with a profound reduction in connectivity between many brain regions, and with a reconfiguration of the organisation of functional brain networks.
“The findings can improve clinical understanding of how a baby’s brain develops and may provide a way to identify subtle alterations leading to problems later in life. Early identification of babies at an increased risk is important in order to develop potential therapeutic strategies. In the future we hope to identify infants that may benefit of targeted interventions as early as few weeks after birth in order to improve their quality of life.” Dr Dafnis Battale commented.
“It is great to see that the combination of advanced image analysis tools and open datasets such as the developing Human Connectome Project can offer a new glimpse into how the brain organises itself during development. “Said Professor Daniel Rueckert, Imperial College London
The Developing Human Connectome Project is led by King’s College London in collaboration with Oxford University and Imperial College and funded by the European Research Council.
It is providing high resolution magnetic resonance brain images from around 1000 unborn and newborn babies to scientists worldwide to support a large number of world-leading research projects into brain development and cerebral or mental health disorders.
About this neurodevelopment research news
Source: King’s College London Contact: Dafnis Battale – King’s College London Image: Image is in the public domain
The Developing Human Connectome Project: typical and disrupted perinatal functional connectivity
The Developing Human Connectome Project is an Open Science project that provides the first large sample of neonatal functional MRI data with high temporal and spatial resolution. These data enable mapping of intrinsic functional connectivity between spatially distributed brain regions under normal and adverse perinatal circumstances, offering a framework to study the ontogeny of large-scale brain organization in humans. Here, we characterize in unprecedented detail the maturation and integrity of resting state networks (RSNs) at term-equivalent age in 337 infants (including 65 born preterm).
First, we applied group independent component analysis to define 11 RSNs in term-born infants scanned at 43.5–44.5 weeks postmenstrual age (PMA). Adult-like topography was observed in RSNs encompassing primary sensorimotor, visual and auditory cortices. Among six higher-order, association RSNs, analogues of the adult networks for language and ocular control were identified, but a complete default mode network precursor was not. Next, we regressed the subject-level datasets from an independent cohort of infants scanned at 37–43.5 weeks PMA against the group-level RSNs to test for the effects of age, sex and preterm birth. Brain mapping in term-born infants revealed areas of positive association with age across four of six association RSNs, indicating active maturation in functional connectivity from 37 to 43.5 weeks PMA.
Female infants showed increased connectivity in inferotemporal regions of the visual association network. Preterm birth was associated with striking impairments of functional connectivity across all RSNs in a dose-dependent manner; conversely, connectivity of the superior parietal lobules within the lateral motor network was abnormally increased in preterm infants, suggesting a possible mechanism for specific difficulties such as developmental coordination disorder, which occur frequently in preterm children.
Overall, we found a robust, modular, symmetrical functional brain organization at normal term age. A complete set of adult-equivalent primary RSNs is already instated, alongside emerging connectivity in immature association RSNs, consistent with a primary-to-higher order ontogenetic sequence of brain development. The early developmental disruption imposed by preterm birth is associated with extensive alterations in functional connectivity.
Eyre et al. map the trajectories of functional brain development at term age with unprecedented detail in 337 infants, showing a primary-to-higher-order ontogenetic sequence of brain development and the extensive effect of preterm birth on neonatal functional connectivity.