• News

"The Brain Before Birth - Using fMRI to Explore the Secrets of Fetal Neurodevelopment"

  • Environmental Health Perspectives
  • New York, NY
  • (November 20, 2018)

Human brain development starts soon after conception and continues into early adulthood. The fetal brain begins to develop during the third week of gestation. Over the course of pregnancy, the structure of the brain will change as it grows and begins to form the characteristic folds that designate distinct brain regions. “We don’t know a lot about what happens in fetal life, because we haven’t had the tools to measure brain development in fetal life,” says Robert Wright, an environmental epidemiologist and pediatrician at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. The developing brain relies on environmental and endogenous stimuli such as these to help it determine which connections should be pruned and which should not. “When a neuron fires after a proper signal, its synaptic connections are solidified,” Wright explains. “If a neuron’s synaptic connection is rarely fired, it regresses and is removed.” Other researchers agree that acting on environmental risk factors may be key to developing effective neurobehavioral interventions. For preterm infants, interventions could include changing the hospital environment, says Annemarie Stroustrup, a neonatologist at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Stroustrup leads a study designed to look at the developmental impacts of NICU exposures. She plans to incorporate the use of neuroimaging to assess neurodevelopment in premature infants under NICU care and then compare early brain connectivity to measures of exposure and childhood behavioral outcomes. 

— Robert O. Wright, MD, Professor, System Chair, Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Director, Mount Sinai Institute for Exposomic Research

- Annemarie Stroustrup, MD, Associate Professor, Pediatrics, Environmental Medicine & Public Health, Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Learn more >