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Front Hum Neurosci. 2014 Oct 22;8:852. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00852. eCollection 2014.

Fetal functional imaging portrays heterogeneous development of emerging human brain networks.

Author information

1
Computational Imaging Research Lab, Department of Biomedical Imaging and Image-guided Therapy, Medical University of Vienna Vienna, Austria.
2
Division for Neuroradiology and Musculoskeletal Radiology, Department of Biomedical Imaging and Image-guided Therapy, Medical University of Vienna Vienna, Austria.
3
Department of Systematic Anatomy, Center for Anatomy and Cell Biology, Medical University of Vienna Vienna, Austria.
4
Computational Imaging Research Lab, Department of Biomedical Imaging and Image-guided Therapy, Medical University of Vienna Vienna, Austria ; Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA, USA.

Abstract

The functional connectivity architecture of the adult human brain enables complex cognitive processes, and exhibits a remarkably complex structure shared across individuals. We are only beginning to understand its heterogeneous structure, ranging from a strongly hierarchical organization in sensorimotor areas to widely distributed networks in areas such as the parieto-frontal cortex. Our study relied on the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data of 32 fetuses with no detectable morphological abnormalities. After adapting functional magnetic resonance acquisition, motion correction, and nuisance signal reduction procedures of resting-state functional data analysis to fetuses, we extracted neural activity information for major cortical and subcortical structures. Resting fMRI networks were observed for increasing regional functional connectivity from 21st to 38th gestational weeks (GWs) with a network-based statistical inference approach. The overall connectivity network, short range, and interhemispheric connections showed sigmoid expansion curve peaking at the 26-29 GW. In contrast, long-range connections exhibited linear increase with no periods of peaking development. Region-specific increase of functional signal synchrony followed a sequence of occipital (peak: 24.8 GW), temporal (peak: 26 GW), frontal (peak: 26.4 GW), and parietal expansion (peak: 27.5 GW). We successfully adapted functional neuroimaging and image post-processing approaches to correlate macroscopical scale activations in the fetal brain with gestational age. This in vivo study reflects the fact that the mid-fetal period hosts events that cause the architecture of the brain circuitry to mature, which presumably manifests in increasing strength of intra- and interhemispheric functional macro connectivity.

KEYWORDS:

connectome; fetal brain connectivity; fetal brain development; fetal functional MRI; prenatal development

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