Walking, Gross Motor Development, and Brain Functional Connectivity in Infants and Toddlers
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Infant gross motor development is vital to adaptive function and predictive of both cognitive outcomes and neurodevelopmental disorders. However, little is known about neural systems underlying the emergence of walking and general gross motor abilities. Using resting state fcMRI, we identified functional brain networks associated with walking and gross motor scores in a mixed cross-sectional and longitudinal cohort of infants at high and low risk for autism spectrum disorder, who represent a dimensionally distributed range of motor function. At age 12 months, functional connectivity of motor and default mode networks was correlated with walking, whereas dorsal attention and posterior cingulo-opercular networks were implicated at age 24 months. Analyses of general gross motor function also revealed involvement of motor and default mode networks at 12 and 24 months, with dorsal attention, cingulo-opercular, frontoparietal, and subcortical networks additionally implicated at 24 months. These findings suggest that changes in network-level brain-behavior relationships underlie the emergence and consolidation of walking and gross motor abilities in the toddler period. This initial description of network substrates of early gross motor development may inform hypotheses regarding neural systems contributing to typical and atypical motor outcomes, as well as neurodevelopmental disorders associated with motor dysfunction.