Structural and functional brain connectivity in adults is specific and stable over time so, like a fingerprint, it has been seen that it can be used to identify subjects. This is known as a connectomic trace. The brain of newborns is very different from that of adults, with very rapid changes over time.
An international team of researchers, in which the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM) in Spain has collaborated, has shown that, despite these rapid changes, the structural connectivity of the brain allows the identification of individuals for several weeks around birth, while that functional connectivity presents greater limitations for this. One of the conclusions of the study is that connectomic fingerprints can be used not only for the identification of individuals but also for the early detection of pathologies.
The work has been led by the researcher Judit Ciarrusta, from King’s College London, in collaboration with the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, the Catholic University of Leuven, the University of Oxford, the UPM, Imperial College London and the Technical University from Munich. The study is based on measurements of brain connectivity in a group of premature subjects a few hours after birth. For this, diffusion and functional magnetic resonance techniques were used, sensitive respectively to the structure and function of the brain. These measurements were repeated on the same group of subjects a few weeks later and by means of statistical methods an attempt was made to identify the babies by the similarity between measurements at the two moments considered. While this was possible in 65% of the cases for the structural measures, only 10% success was achieved for the functional measures. In addition, the identification capacities of subjects from different brain areas were studied, thereby providing information on the changes due to the maturation of these areas around birth, as well as on the differences between individuals.
A small section of a brain connectogram. (Image: Van Horn JD, et al.)
The Biomedical Imaging Technologies Research Group (BIT) of the UPM (belonging to the Center for Biomedical Research in the Bioengineering, Biomaterials and Nanomedicine Network of the Carlos III Health Institute) has collaborated in the study by developing advanced imaging techniques. As Lucilio Cordero, a member of the BIT and who has been part of the team of collaborators of the study, points out, “we have contributed with methods of reconstruction and correction of movement in functional and diffusion resonance, which are essential to obtain quality data in this population , since it is very difficult for babies not to move during the acquisition of the images in the MRI scanner”.
Although there are similar studies in adults, and even in adolescents and children, this is the first study of its kind in newborns. The results suggest that structural connectivity provides a relatively stable individual footprint and is present at birth, while functional connectivity could be in a more immature or dynamic stage, or present more difficulties for its interpretation. “The study provides important information to determine the degree of malleability of different properties of the brain of babies, with the ultimate goal of helping to design personalized procedures to promote adequate neurodevelopment”, concludes researcher Lucilio Cordero.
The study is titled “The developing brain structural and functional connectome fingerprint”. And it has been published in the academic journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. (Source: UPM)