Towards Quantitative Assessment of Human Functional Brain Development in the First Years of Life Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Gao, Wei
    • Affiliation: School of Medicine, UNC/NCSU Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering
  • Characterizing the developmental process of human brain function is of critical importance not only in gaining insight into its maturing architecture but also in providing essential age-specific information for assessment and monitoring of both normal and abnormal neurodevelopment. The recent development of non-invasive neuroimaging techniques, particularly resting-state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (rfcMRI) has opened a window into very early functional brain development. Together with diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), rfcMRI offers the unique opportunity to tackle a largely unknown area - early functional brain development as well as its structural underpinnings. In this dissertation, both rfcMRI and DTI were utilized to delineate early brain development. Structurally, we found that white matter fiber tracts experience most rapid axonal development as well as myelination in the first year, followed by a much slower but steady growth thereafter. Spatially, the central white matter tracts develop earlier than the peripheral ones. Functionally, by focusing on one of the most salient high-order cognitive networks during the resting condition (absence of any goal-directed tasks) - the default-mode network, our results showed early emergence of this network in neonates, followed by dramatic synchronization during the first year of life and an adult-like architecture in 2yr olds regarding the core regions. Moreover, we found the anti-correlation (competing functions) between the default network and the task positive network is largely mediated by the frontal-parietal control system using both regional and newly designed network-level approaches, shedding light on brain's functional interaction patterns at a network level. Finally, focusing on the whole brain architecture, our results showed interesting patterns of brain's functional organization development. Specifically, the brain's functional architecture develops from more anatomically sensible to more functionally sensible; for the functional hubs, they gradually shift from sensory-related cortices to higher-order cognitive function related cortices. In conclusion, by focusing on neural circuit development at regional, network as well as whole brain levels and coupling with structural elements, our results delineated interesting and important functional circuits growth patterns and may shed light on the potential principles guiding normal early brain functional development.
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  • ... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
  • Lin, Weili
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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