Background: Among preterm infants, higher morbidities of neurological disturbances and developmental delays are critical issues. Resting-state networks (RSNs) in the brain are suitable measures for assessing higher-level neurocognition. Since investigating task-related brain activity is difficult in neonates, assessment of RSNs provides invaluable insight into their neurocognitive development. Methods: The participants, 32 term and 71 preterm neonates, were divided into three groups based on gestational age (GA) at birth. Cerebral hemodynamic activity of RSNs was measured using functional near-infrared spectroscopy in the temporal, frontal, and parietal regions. Results: High-GA preterm infants (GA ≥ 30 weeks) had a significantly stronger RSN than low-GA preterm infants and term infants. Regression analyses of RSNs as a function of postnatal age (PNA) revealed a steeper regression line in the high-GA preterm and term infants than in the low-GA infants, particularly for inter-area brain connectivity between the frontal and left temporal areas. Conclusions: Slower PNA-dependent development of the frontal–temporal network found only in the low-GA group suggests that significant brain growth optimal in the intrauterine environment takes place before 30 weeks of gestation. The present study suggests a likely reason for the high incidence of neurodevelopmental impairment in early preterm infants. Impact: Resting-state fNIRS measurements in three neonate groups differing in gestational age (GA) showed stronger networks in the high-GA preterm infants than in the term and low-GA infants, which was partly explained by postnatal age (PNA).Regression analyses revealed a similar PNA-dependence in the development of the inter-area networks in the frontal and temporal lobes in the high-GA and term infants, and significantly slower development in the low-GA infants.These results suggest that optimal intrauterine brain growth takes place before 30 weeks of gestation. This explains one of the reasons for the high incidence of neurodevelopmental impairment in early preterm infants.
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