Functional Connectivity of the Infant Human Brain: Plastic and Modifiable

Neuroscientist. 2017 Apr;23(2):169-184. doi: 10.1177/1073858416635986. Epub 2016 Jul 7.


Infancy is a critical and immensely important period in human brain development. Subtle changes during this stage may be greatly amplified with the unfolding of different developmental processes, exerting far-reaching consequences. Studies of the structure and behavioral manifestations of the infant brain are fruitful. However, the specific functional brain mechanisms that enable the execution of different behaviors remained elusive until the advent of functional connectivity fMRI (fcMRI), which provides an unprecedented opportunity to probe the infant functional brain development in vivo. Since its inception, a burgeoning field of infant brain functional connectivity study has emerged and thrived during the past decade. In this review, we describe (1) findings of normal development of functional connectivity networks and their relationships to behaviors and (2) disruptions of the normative functional connectivity development due to identifiable genetic and/or environmental risk factors during the first 2 years of human life. Technical considerations of infant fcMRI are also provided. It is our hope to consolidate previous findings so that the field can move forward with a clearer picture toward the ultimate goal of fcMRI-based objective methods for early diagnosis/identification of risks and evaluation of early interventions to optimize developing functional connectivity networks in this critical developmental window.

Keywords: early brain development; functional connectivity; functional networks; genetic risks; premature birth; prenatal drug exposure; resting state.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child of Impaired Parents*
  • Connectome / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Premature / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net / growth & development
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology*