The Associations Between Maternal Depression and Anxiety and Functional Connectivity of Working Memory in Preschool Children



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Children reared in socioeconomically disadvantaged environments are at disproportionately high risk for academic and behavioral problems. Heightened stress exposure can negatively affect the development of neural circuitries that subserve key neurocognitive functions necessary for school readiness and academic success. Given increased plasticity, such adversities likely have the strongest influences on the maturation and functional organization of candidate neural circuitries in early childhood phases. However, the focus on early childhood periods is limited, which may be partially due to constraints related to neuroimaging at this age range. We leveraged the methodology of functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to address this gap and examined associations between socioeconomic risk, family stress, and variability in functional connectivity in prefrontal-cortex-related brain circuitries in a sample of young children aged 4-7 years. Neural functional connectivity patterns in children were measured using fNIRS while children participated in a visuo-spatial working memory task. Functional connectivity within prefrontal regions and between frontal and parietal regions during working memory blocks was calculated. Results indicated that parent stress and well-being, especially anxiety, were associated with reduced (weaker) functional connectivity within the prefrontal cortex while children engaged in working memory. Functional connectivity was not significantly associated with child behavior based on parent report. In summary, efforts to support families to reduce stress and hardship should be prioritized to support optimal brain maturation and network connectivity that foundationally influences child adjustment and academic success.



Socioeconomic disadvantage, Family stress, Child neural function