Developmental heatmaps of brain functional connectivity from newborns to 6-year-olds

Chen H, Liu J, Chen Y, Salzwedel A, Cornea E, Gilmore JH, Gao W. Developmental heatmaps of brain functional connectivity from newborns to 6-year-olds. Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2021 Aug;50:100976. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2021.100976. Epub 2021 Jun 16. PMID: 34174513; PMCID: PMC8246150.

Different functional networks exhibit distinct longitudinal trajectories throughout development, but the timeline of the dynamics of functional connectivity across the whole brain remains to be elucidated. Here we used resting-state fMRI to investigate the development of voxel-level changes in functional connectivity across the first six years of life. Globally, we found that developmental changes in functional connectivity are nonlinear with more changes during the first postnatal year than the second, followed by most significant changes from ages 2-4 and from ages 4-6. However, the overall global difference observed between the first and second year appears to have been driven by girls. Limbic and subcortical areas consistently demonstrated the most substantial changes, whereas primary sensory areas were the most stable. These patterns were consistent in full-term and preterm subgroups. Validation on randomly divided subsamples as well as in an independent cross-sectional sample revealed global patterns consistent with the main results. Overall, the derived developmental heatmaps reveal novel dynamics underlying functional circuit development during the first 6 years of life.