Pre-term and term babies differ in their brain connectomes!


A new study of 390 babies has shown distinct patterns between term and pre-term babies in the moment-to-moment activity and connectivity of brain networks.

This is the first study to analyse how the communication between brain areas changes moment-to-moment in the first few weeks of life.

Published in Nature Communications, the study also found that these dynamic patterns of brain connectivity in babies were linked to developmental measures of movement, language, cognition and social behaviour 18 months later.

Joint senior author, said: “Although we know how influential brain connectivity is on development, we know little about the patterns of dynamic functional connectivity in early life, and how they link to the way our brains mature. By analysing brain scans from 390 babies, we have begun to identify different transient states of connectivity that could potentially provide insight into how the brain is developing at this age and what behaviours and functions these patterns are linked to as the baby grows older.”   

There is increasing awareness that conditions such as ADHD, autism and schizophrenia have their origins early in life, and that the development of these conditions may be linked to neonatal brain connectivity and its fluctuations over time.

Researchers used state-of-the-art techniques to evaluate functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) data on 324 full term babies and 66 pre-term babies (born at less than 37 weeks gestation). They assessed how the connectivity changed moment-to-moment during the time the baby was in the scanner to provide a dynamic picture. Previous research with babies has always used a measure of connectivity averaged over time spent in the scanner.

The first author said: "These findings are a result of carefully adapting methodologies derived from the domains of computer science and physics, specifically employed to unveil the intricacies inherent to the human neonatal brain. When these methodologies are allied to advanced techniques to obtain unprecedented data like the one from the Developing Human Connectome Project, we have a unique opportunity to deepen our understanding of the largely unknown realm of brain dynamics in early life.”

The study used methods that tap into how the brain connectivity fluctuates: one method that considers connectivity patterns across the whole brain and one that considers patterns within different regions of the brain.

The study identified six different brain states: three of these were across the whole brain and three were constrained to regions of the brain (occipital, sensorimotor and frontal regions). By comparing term and pre-term babies the researchers showed that different patterns of connectivity are linked to pre-term birth, for example pre-term babies spent more time in frontal and occipital brain states than term babies. They also demonstrated that brain state dynamics at birth are linked to a range of developmental outcomes in early childhood.

The other joint senior author said: “This is a real step forward in the use of imaging techniques to investigate how brain activity is continually changing in early life and how this provides a platform to support subsequent developmental milestones in childhood. The difference between term and pre-term babies suggests that time spent in or outside the womb shapes brain development. We now need to try and find out if it is possible to use these insights to identify and help those who need some additional support.”

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-023-44050-z

http://sciencemission.com/site/index.php?page=news&type=view&id=publications%2Fneonatal-brain-dynamic&filter=22

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