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Functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI) of neonates with perinatal brain injury could improve prediction of motor impairment before symptoms manifest, and establish how early brain organization relates to subsequent development. This cohort study is the first to describe and quantitatively assess functional brain networks and their relation to later motor skills in neonates with a diverse range of perinatal brain injuries.
Infants (n = 65, included in final analyses: n = 53) were recruited from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and were stratified based on their age at birth (prematurevs. term), and on whether neuropathology was diagnosed from structural MRI. Functional brain networks and a measure of disruption to functional connectivity were obtained from 14 min of fcMRI acquired during natural sleep at term-equivalent age.
Disruption to connectivity of the somatomotor and frontoparietal executive networks predicted motor impairment at 4 and 8 months. This disruption in functional connectivity was not found to be driven by differences between clinical groups, or by any of the specific measures we captured to describe the clinical course.
fcMRI was predictive over and above other clinical measures available at discharge from the NICU, including structural MRI. Motor learning was affected by disruption to somatomotor networks, but also frontoparietal executive networks, which supports the functional importance of these networks in early development. Disruption to these two networks might be best addressed by distinct intervention strategies.