Gestational age-related changes in the fetal functional connectome: in utero evidence for the global signal

Cereb Cortex. 2023 Feb 20;33(5):2302-2314. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhac209.


The human brain begins to develop in the third gestational week and rapidly grows and matures over the course of pregnancy. Compared to fetal structural neurodevelopment, less is known about emerging functional connectivity in utero. Here, we investigated gestational age (GA)-associated in vivo changes in functional brain connectivity during the second and third trimesters in a large dataset of 110 resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging scans from a cohort of 95 healthy fetuses. Using representational similarity analysis, a multivariate analytical technique that reveals pair-wise similarity in high-order space, we showed that intersubject similarity of fetal functional connectome patterns was strongly related to between-subject GA differences (r = 0.28, P < 0.01) and that GA sensitivity of functional connectome was lateralized, especially at the frontal area. Our analysis also revealed a subnetwork of connections that were critical for predicting age (mean absolute error = 2.72 weeks); functional connectome patterns of individual fetuses reliably predicted their GA (r = 0.51, P < 0.001). Lastly, we identified the primary principal brain network that tracked fetal brain maturity. The main network showed a global synchronization pattern resembling global signal in the adult brain.

Keywords: age prediction; fMRI; fetus; functional connectivity; global signal.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain
  • Connectome* / methods
  • Female
  • Fetus
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third