Fetal Development of Functional Thalamocortical and Cortico-Cortical Connectivity

Taymourtash A, Schwartz E, Nenning KH, Sobotka D, Licandro R, Glatter S, Diogo MC, Golland P, Grant E, Prayer D, Kasprian G, Langs G. Fetal Development of Functional Thalamocortical and Cortico-Cortical Connectivity. Cereb Cortex. 2022;(9):5613–24.


Measuring and understanding functional fetal brain development in utero is critical for the study of the developmental foundations of our cognitive abilities, possible early detection of disorders, and their prevention. Thalamocortical connections are an intricate component of shaping the cortical layout, but so far, only ex-vivo studies provide evidence of how axons enter the sub-plate and cortex during this highly dynamic phase. Evidence for normal in-utero development of the functional thalamocortical connectome in humans is missing. Here, we modeled fetal functional thalamocortical connectome development using in-utero functional magnetic resonance imaging in fetuses observed from 19th to 40th weeks of gestation (GW). We observed a peak increase of thalamocortical functional connectivity strength between 29th and 31st GW, right before axons establish synapses in the cortex. The cortico-cortical connectivity increases in a similar time window, and exhibits significant functional laterality in temporal-superior, -medial, and -inferior areas. Homologous regions exhibit overall similar mirrored connectivity profiles, but this similarity decreases during gestation giving way to a more diverse cortical interconnectedness. Our results complement the understanding of structural development of the human connectome and may serve as the basis for the investigation of disease and deviations from a normal developmental trajectory of connectivity development.

Last updated on 05/16/2023