Effects of prenatal opioid exposure on functional networks in infancy

Merhar SL, Jiang W, Parikh NA, Yin W, Zhou Z, Tkach JA, Wang L, Kline-Fath BM, He L, Braimah A, Vannest J, Lin W. Effects of prenatal opioid exposure on functional networks in infancy. Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2021 Oct;51:100996. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2021.100996. Epub 2021 Jul 31. PMID: 34388637; PMCID: PMC8363826.

Prenatal opioid exposure has been linked to altered neurodevelopment and visual problems such as strabismus and nystagmus. The neural substrate underlying these alterations is unclear. Resting-state functional connectivity MRI (rsfMRI) is an advanced and well-established technique to evaluate brain networks. Few studies have examined the effects of prenatal opioid exposure on resting-state network connectivity in infancy. In this pilot study, we characterized network connectivity in opioid-exposed infants (n = 19) and controls (n = 20) between 4–8 weeks of age using both a whole-brain connectomic approach and a seed-based approach. Prenatal opioid exposure was associated with differences in distribution of betweenness centrality and connection length, with positive connections unique to each group significantly longer than common connections. The unique connections in the opioid-exposed group were more often inter-network connections while unique connections in controls and connections common to both groups were more often intra-network. The opioid-exposed group had smaller network volumes particularly in the primary visual network, but similar network strength as controls. Network topologies as determined by dice similarity index were different between groups, particularly in visual and executive control networks. These results may provide insight into the neural basis for the developmental and visual problems associated with prenatal opioid exposure.