discoveries magazine

Brain Mapping

Taylor Callery

Nearly 15% of U.S. children between the ages of 2 and 8 are affected by mental, behavioral or developmental conditions such as autism and attention deficit disorder. By examining growth rates in infants’ brain circuitry, investigators have discovered ways of identifying the potential for these issues earlier.

“Using the functional connectivity of infants’ brains to predict emotional and cognitive outcomes could become a powerful tool to identify problems early on and design effective treatment plans,” says Wei Gao, PhD, director of Neuroimaging Research at the Cedars-Sinai Biomedical Imaging Research Institute and co-senior author of the study with a colleague from the University of North Carolina.

The bicoastal team built on earlier research in which they performed MRI scans on more than 1,000 healthy infants to examine how and when connections developed between the amygdala, which regulates emotions, and the rest of the brain. The new project evaluated 223 of those children at age 4 and confirmed that emotional circuit development during infancy affects children as they grow up.

The next step will be to establish more comprehensive models to forecast a wider variety of developmental outcomes during and beyond early childhood. The team also plans to apply the model to groups at risk for developmental disorders, including babies born prematurely and those who had prenatal drug exposure.

The study received funding from the National Institutes of Health and from Cedars-Sinai Precision Health.