Individual differences in neonatal white matter are associated with executive function at 3 years of age

R.J. Steiner, J.H. Gilmore, M.T. Willoughby, M. Styner, M. Camerota, S.J. Short, R.L. Stephens
The development of executive function (EF) in early childhood contributes to social and academic aspects of school readiness and facilitates emerging self-regulatory competence. Numerous efforts are underway to identify aspects of early brain development that contribute to emerging EF. Existing research supports the importance of multiple white matter tracts for EF in older children and adults. However, this research has not been extended to young children. In this study, we consider neonatal
more » ... ite matter microstructure in relation to children's performance on a battery of EF tasks three years later. We obtained diffusion tensor imaging data from a sample of neonates (N = 27) shortly after birth. At 3 years of age, children completed a computerized battery of EF tasks. The primary data analyses involved regression models estimated for each white matter tract. Multiple demographic and measure-related covariates were included in each model. A follow-up analysis of tracts determined to be associated with EF examined individual data points along those fibers. Among the white matter tracts analyzed, the cingulum was significantly associated with EF at 3 years of age. Specifically, lower axial diffusivity values along the cingulum were associated with increased performance on the EF battery. Results are discussed as providing initial evidence that individual differences in neonatal brain structure may facilitate the acquisition of EF abilities in early childhood. These findings are consistent with previous research that supports the value of the cingulum for higher-order cognitive abilities. Cautions and implications of these results are considered.
doi:10.17615/heqa-ra49 fatcat:omkqh6sil5c2lemui5frirbrli