Childhood and adolescence are both critical developmental periods, evidenced by complex neurophysiological changes the brain undergoes and high occurrence rates of neuropsychiatric disorders during these periods. Despite substantial progress in elucidating the developmental trajectories of individual neural circuits, our knowledge of developmental changes of whole-brain connectivity architecture in animals is sparse. To fill this gap, here we longitudinally acquired rsfMRI data in awake rats during five developmental stages from juvenile to adulthood. We found that the maturation timelines of brain circuits were heterogeneous and system specific. Functional connectivity (FC) tended to decrease in subcortical circuits, but increase in cortical circuits during development. In addition, the developing brain exhibited hemispheric functional specialization, evidenced by reduced inter-hemispheric FC between homotopic regions, and lower similarity of region-to-region FC patterns between the two hemispheres. Finally, we showed that whole-brain network development was characterized by reduced clustering (i.e. local communication) but increased integration (distant communication). Taken together, the present study has systematically characterized the development of brain-wide connectivity architecture from juvenile to adulthood in awake rats. It also serves as a critical reference point for understanding circuit- and network-level changes in animal models of brain development-related disorders. Furthermore, FC data during brain development in awake rodents contain high translational value and can shed light onto comparative neuroanatomy.
Keywords: Adolescence; Awake rat; Brain development; Resting-state functional connectivity.
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