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Sci Rep. 2017 Jan 9;7:39286. doi: 10.1038/srep39286.

Weak functional connectivity in the human fetal brain prior to preterm birth.

Author information

1
Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child and Family Development, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202, USA.
2
Department of Pediatrics, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, MI 48202, USA.
3
Perinatology Research Branch, NICHD/NIH/DHHS, Detroit, Michigan, and Bethesda, Maryland, USA.
4
Institute for Social Research, Survey Research Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, 48104, USA.
5
Department of Radiology &Biomedical Imaging, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.
6
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, MI 48202, USA.
7
Department of Neurosurgery, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.
8
Department of Pediatrics, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.
9
Department of Neurology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.
10
Center for Molecular Medicine, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202, USA.
11
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Michigan School of Medicine, Ann Arbor, MI, 48104, USA.
12
Department of Epidemiology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48825, USA.

Abstract

It has been suggested that neurological problems more frequent in those born preterm are expressed prior to birth, but owing to technical limitations, this has been difficult to test in humans. We applied novel fetal resting-state functional MRI to measure brain function in 32 human fetuses in utero and found that systems-level neural functional connectivity was diminished in fetuses that would subsequently be born preterm. Neural connectivity was reduced in a left-hemisphere pre-language region, and the degree to which connectivity of this left language region extended to right-hemisphere homologs was positively associated with the time elapsed between fMRI assessment and delivery. These results provide the first evidence that altered functional connectivity in the preterm brain is identifiable before birth. They suggest that neurodevelopmental disorders associated with preterm birth may result from neurological insults that begin in utero.

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