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Neuroimage. 2019 May 15;192:145-155. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.02.060. Epub 2019 Feb 27.

White matter connectomes at birth accurately predict cognitive abilities at age 2.

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Department of Psychiatry, UNC Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, 27599, USA.
Department of Computer Science, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC, 29424, USA.
Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, UNC Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, 27599, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, UNC Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, 27599, USA. Electronic address:


Cognitive ability is an important predictor of mental health outcomes that is influenced by neurodevelopment. Evidence suggests that the foundational wiring of the human brain is in place by birth, and that the white matter (WM) connectome supports developing brain function. It is unknown, however, how the WM connectome at birth supports emergent cognition. In this study, a deep learning model was trained using cross-validation to classify full-term infants (n = 75) as scoring above or below the median at age 2 using WM connectomes generated from diffusion weighted magnetic resonance images at birth. Results from this model were used to predict individual cognitive scores. We additionally identified WM connections important for classification. The model was also evaluated in a separate set of preterm infants (n = 37) scanned at term-age equivalent. Findings revealed that WM connectomes at birth predicted 2-year cognitive score group with high accuracy in both full-term (89.5%) and preterm (83.8%) infants. Scores predicted by the model were strongly correlated with actual scores (r = 0.98 for full-term and r = 0.96 for preterm). Connections within the frontal lobe, and between the frontal lobe and other brain areas were found to be important for classification. This work suggests that WM connectomes at birth can accurately predict a child's 2-year cognitive group and individual score in full-term and preterm infants. The WM connectome at birth appears to be a useful neuroimaging biomarker of subsequent cognitive development that deserves further study.


Biomarker; Cognition; Connectome; Infant brain; Prediction; White matter

[Available on 2020-05-15]

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