The brain is organized as a complex network of functionally communicating regions, a network also known as the functional connectome. The fetal to neonatal period is well known as a critical stage in brain development. Large-scale functional connectome formation and reorganization is apparent in the second trimester, making it a crucial and vulnerable time window in connectome development. Recent advances in MRI have made it possible to examine fetal brain functional connectivity. Understanding the developmental trajectory of brain connectivity provides a basis for understanding how the prenatal period shapes future brain function and disease dysfunction.
In this study, PRB researchers explored a large fetal resting-state functional MRI (fMRI) dataset to evaluate the early presence of key characteristics of human connectome organization before birth. A sample of 105 pregnant women participated in human fetal resting-state fMRI studies (gestational age 20-40 weeks). The goal was to shed light on the blueprint of the connectome by comparing fetal topological characteristics to those observed in the mature adult brain. Connectome analysis was used to analyze weighted network characteristics of fetal macroscale brain wiring. The team identified efficient network attributes, common functional modules, and high overlap between the fetal and adult brain network. Such results indicate that key features of the functional connectome are present in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Understanding the organizational principles of fetal connectome organization may bring opportunities to develop markers for early detection of alterations of brain function.