Developmental coupling of brain iron and intrinsic activity in infants during the first 150 days
Brain iron is vital for core neurodevelopmental processes including myelination and neurotransmitter synthesis and, accordingly, iron accumulates in the brain with age. However, little is known about the association between brain iron and neural functioning and how they evolve with age in early infancy. This study investigated brain iron in 48 healthy infants (22 females) aged 64.00 ± 33.28 days by estimating R2 * relaxometry from multi-echo functional MRI (fMRI). Linked independent component analysis was performed to examine the association between iron deposition and spontaneous neural activity, as measured by the amplitude of low frequency fluctuations (ALFF) by interrogating shared component loadings across modalities. Further, findings were validated in an independent dataset (n = 45, 24 females, 77.93 ± 26.18 days). The analysis revealed developmental coupling between the global R2 * and ALFF within the default mode network (DMN). Furthermore, we observed that this coupling effect significantly increased with age (r = 0.78, p = 9.2e-11). Our results highlight the importance of iron-neural coupling during early development and suggest that the neural maturation of the DMN may correspond to growth in distributed brain iron.
Intergenerational Transmission of Maternal Childhood Maltreatment Prior to Birth: Effects on Human Fetal Amygdala Functional Connectivity
OBJECTIVE:Childhood maltreatment (CM) is a potent risk factor for developing psychopathology later in life. Accumulating research suggests that the influence is not limited to the exposed individual but may also be transmitted across generations. In this study, we examine the effect of CM in pregnant women on fetal amygdala-cortical function, prior to postnatal influences. METHOD/METHODS:Healthy pregnant women (N = 89) completed fetal resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rsfMRI) scans between the late second trimester and birth. Women were primarily from low socioeconomic status households with relatively high CM. Mothers completed questionnaires prospectively evaluating prenatal psychosocial health and retrospectively evaluating trauma from their own childhood. Voxelwise functional connectivity was calculated from bilateral amygdala masks. RESULTS:Connectivity of the amygdala network was relatively higher to left frontal areas (prefrontal cortex and premotor) and relatively lower to right premotor area and brainstem areas in fetuses of mothers exposed to higher CM. These associations persisted after controlling for maternal socioeconomic status, maternal prenatal distress, measures of fetal motion, and gestational age at the time of scan and at birth. CONCLUSION/CONCLUSIONS:Pregnant women's experiences of CM are associated with offspring brain development in utero. The strongest effects were found in the left hemisphere, potentially indicating lateralization of the effects of maternal CM on the fetal brain. This study suggests that the time frame of the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease research should be extended to exposures from mothers' childhood, and indicates that the intergenerational transmission of trauma may occur prior to birth.
A comparison of the infant gut microbiome before versus after the start of the covid-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting public health directives led to many changes in families' social and material environments. Prior research suggests that these changes are likely to impact composition of the gut microbiome, particularly during early childhood when the gut microbiome is developing most rapidly. Importantly, disruption to the gut microbiome during this sensitive period can have potentially long-lasting impacts on health and development. In the current study, we compare gut microbiome composition among a socioeconomically and racially diverse group of 12-month old infants living in New York City who provided stool samples before the pandemic (N = 34) to a group who provided samples during the first 9-months of the pandemic (March-December 2020; N = 20). We found that infants sampled during the pandemic had lower alpha diversity of the microbiome, lower abundance of Pasteurellaceae and Haemophilus, and significantly different beta diversity based on unweighted Unifrac distance than infants sampled before the pandemic. Exploratory analyses suggest that gut microbiome changes due to the pandemic occurred relatively quickly after the start of the pandemic and were sustained. Our results provide evidence that pandemic-related environmental disruptions had an impact on community-level taxonomic diversity of the developing gut microbiome, as well as abundance of specific members of the gut bacterial community.
Fetal behavior during MRI changes with age and relates to network dynamics
Fetal motor behavior is an important clinical indicator of healthy development. However, our understanding of associations between fetal behavior and fetal brain development is limited. To fill this gap, this study introduced an approach to automatically and objectively classify long durations of fetal movement from a continuous four-dimensional functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data set, and paired behavior features with brain activity indicated by the fMRI time series. Twelve-minute fMRI scans were conducted in 120 normal fetuses. Postnatal motor function was evaluated at 7 and 36 months age. Fetal motor behavior was quantified by calculating the frame-wise displacement (FD) of fetal brains extracted by a deep-learning model along the whole time series. Analyzing only low motion data, we characterized the recurring coactivation patterns (CAPs) of the supplementary motor area (SMA). Results showed reduced motor activity with advancing gestational age (GA), likely due in part to loss of space (r = -.51, p < .001). Evaluation of individual variation in motor movement revealed a negative association between movement and the occurrence of coactivations within the left parietotemporal network, controlling for age and sex (p = .003). Further, we found that the occurrence of coactivations between the SMA to posterior brain regions, including visual cortex, was prospectively associated with postnatal motor function at 7 months (r = .43, p = .03). This is the first study to pair fetal movement and fMRI, highlighting potential for comparisons of fetal behavior and neural network development to enhance our understanding of fetal brain organization.
Fetal Frontolimbic Connectivity Prospectively Associates With Aggression in Toddlers
Background: Aggression is a major public health concern that emerges early in development and lacks optimized treatment, highlighting need for improved mechanistic understanding regarding the etiology of aggression. The present study leveraged fetal resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging to identify candidate neurocircuitry for the onset of aggressive behaviors before symptom emergence.
Method(s): Pregnant mothers were recruited during the third trimester of pregnancy to complete a fetal resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging scan. Mothers subsequently completed the Child Behavior Checklist to assess child aggression at 3 years postpartum (n = 79). Independent component analysis was used to define frontal and limbic regions of interest.
Result(s): Child aggression was not related to within-network connectivity of subcortical limbic regions or within-medial prefrontal network connectivity in fetuses. However, weaker functional coupling between the subcortical limbic network and medial prefrontal network in fetuses was prospectively associated with greater maternal-rated child aggression at 3 years of age even after controlling for maternal emotion dysregulation and toddler language ability. We observed similar, but weaker, associations between fetal frontolimbic functional connectivity and toddler internalizing symptoms.
Conclusion(s): Neural correlates of aggressive behavior may be detectable in utero, well before the onset of aggression symptoms. These preliminary results highlight frontolimbic connections as potential candidate neurocircuitry that should be further investigated in relation to the unfolding of child behavior and psychiatric risk.
Perceived medical care quality during COVID-19 illness links socioeconomic disadvantage to vaccine hesitancy
Maximizing vaccine uptake is critical for the optimal implementation of COVID-19 immunization programs. Indicators of socioeconomic status (SES) have been associated with variations in COVID-19 vaccine uptake in the United States. The present study investigates COVID-19 vaccination behavior in individuals with history of COVID-19 infection, with the specific goal of understanding whether experiences during illness explain socioeconomic disproportionalities in vaccine uptake. We leveraged a large sample of adults (n = 1584) infected with COVID-19 in NYC to examine this question, investigating whether specific experiences during illness explained the association between socioeconomic status and COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Data from this study were collected during February and March 2021. Principal component analysis was used to create three composite variables that measure distinct COVID-19 related experiences: infection-related health impacts, pandemic-related psychosocial disruption, and perceived quality of medical care during COVID-19 illness. Neither infection-related impacts nor psychosocial disruption were related to vaccine hesitancy after adjusting for related sociodemographic covariates. However, perceptions of higher quality care received during COVID-19 illness predicted decreased COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Furthermore, mediation analysis revealed that perceived care quality during COVID-19 illness mediate the relationship between objective socioeconomic risk and COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. These findings highlight patient-reported care quality during illness as a novel target that may increase vaccine uptake among socioeconomically vulnerable populations.
Perceived medical care quality during COVID-19 illness links socioeconomic disadvantage to vaccine hesitancy
Maximizing vaccine uptake is critical for the optimal implementation of COVID-19 immunization programs. Indicators of socioeconomic status (SES) have been associated with variations in COVID-19 vaccine uptake in the United States. The present study investigates COVID-19 vaccination behavior in individuals with history of COVID-19 infection, with the specific goal of understanding whether experiences during illness explain socioeconomic disproportionalities in vaccine uptake. We leveraged a large sample of adults (nÂ =Â 1584) infected with COVID-19 in NYC to examine this question, investigating whether specific experiences during illness explained the association between socioeconomic status and COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Data from this study were collected during February and March 2021. Principal component analysis was used to create three composite variables that measure distinct COVID-19 related experiences: infection-related health impacts, pandemic-related psychosocial disruption, and perceived quality of medical care during COVID-19 illness. Neither infection-related impacts nor psychosocial disruption were related to vaccine hesitancy after adjusting for related sociodemographic covariates. However, perceptions of higher quality care received during COVID-19 illness predicted decreased COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Furthermore, mediation analysis revealed that perceived care quality during COVID-19 illness mediate the relationship between objective socioeconomic risk and COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. These findings highlight patient-reported care quality during illness as a novel target that may increase vaccine uptake among socioeconomically vulnerable populations.
Increasing diversity in developmental cognitive neuroscience: A roadmap for increasing representation in pediatric neuroimaging research
Understanding of human brain development has advanced rapidly as the field of developmental cognitive neuroscience (DCN) has matured into an established scientific discipline. Despite substantial progress, DCN lags behind other related disciplines in terms of diverse representation, standardized reporting requirements for socio-demographic characteristics of participants in pediatric neuroimaging studies, and use of intentional sampling strategies to more accurately represent the socio-demographic, ethnic, and racial composition of the populations from which participants are sampled. Additional efforts are needed to shift DCN towards a more inclusive field that facilitates the study of individual differences across a variety of cultural and contextual experiences. In this commentary, we outline and discuss barriers within our current scientific practice (e.g., research methods) and beliefs (i.e., what constitutes good science, good scientists, and good research questions) that contribute to under-representation and limited diversity within pediatric neuroimaging studies and propose strategies to overcome those barriers. We discuss strategies to address barriers at intrapersonal, interpersonal, community, systemic, and structural levels. Highlighting strength-based models of inclusion and recognition of the value of diversity in DCN research, along with acknowledgement of the support needed to diversify the field is critical for advancing understanding of neurodevelopment and reducing health inequities.
Geotemporal analysis of perinatal care changes and maternal mental health: an example from the COVID-19 pandemic
Our primary objective was to document COVID-19 induced changes to perinatal care across the USA and examine the implication of these changes for maternal mental health. We performed an observational cross-sectional study with convenience sampling using direct patient reports from 1918 postpartum and 3868 pregnant individuals collected between April 2020 and December 2020 from 10 states across the USA. We leverage a subgroup of these participants who gave birth prior to March 2020 to estimate the pre-pandemic prevalence of specific birthing practices as a comparison. Our primary analyses describe the prevalence and timing of perinatal care changes, compare perinatal care changes depending on when and where individuals gave birth, and assess the linkage between perinatal care alterations and maternal anxiety and depressive symptoms. Seventy-eight percent of pregnant participants and 63% of postpartum participants reported at least one change to their perinatal care between March and August 2020. However, the prevalence and nature of specific perinatal care changes occurred unevenly over time and across geographic locations. The separation of infants and mothers immediately after birth and the cancelation of prenatal visits were associated with worsened depression and anxiety symptoms in mothers after controlling for sociodemographic factors, mental health history, number of pregnancy complications, and general stress about the COVID-19 pandemic. Our analyses reveal widespread changes to perinatal care across the US that fluctuated depending on where and when individuals gave birth. Disruptions to perinatal care may also exacerbate mental health concerns, so focused treatments that can mitigate the negative psychiatric sequelae of interrupted care are warranted.
OWLET: An automated, open-source method for infant gaze tracking using smartphone and webcam recordings
Groundbreaking insights into the origins of the human mind have been garnered through the study of eye movements in preverbal subjects who are unable to explain their thought processes. Developmental research has largely relied on in-lab testing with trained experimenters. This constraint provides a narrow window into infant cognition and impedes large-scale data collection in families from diverse socioeconomic, geographic, and cultural backgrounds. Here we introduce a new open-source methodology for automatically analyzing infant eye-tracking data collected on personal devices in the home. Using algorithms from computer vision, machine learning, and ecological psychology, we develop an online webcam-linked eye tracker (OWLET) that provides robust estimation of infants' point of gaze from smartphone and webcam recordings of infant assessments in the home. We validate OWLET in a large sample of 7-month-old infants (N = 127) tested remotely, using an established visual attention task. We show that this new method reliably estimates infants' point-of-gaze across a variety of contexts, including testing on both computers and mobile devices, and exhibits excellent external validity with parental-report measures of attention. Our platform fills a significant gap in current tools available for rapid online data collection and large-scale assessments of cognitive processes in infants. Remote assessment addresses the need for greater diversity and accessibility in human studies and may support the ecological validity of behavioral experiments. This constitutes a critical and timely advance in a core domain of developmental research and in psychological science more broadly.