The potential of infant fMRI research and the study of early life stress as a promising exemplar

Alice M. Graham, Jennifer H. Pfeifer, Philip A. Fisher, Weili Lin, Wei Gao, Damien A. Fair

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research with infants and toddlers has increased rapidly over the past decade, and provided a unique window into early brain development. In the current report, we review the state of the literature, which has established the feasibility and utility of task-based fMRI and resting state functional connectivity MRI (rs-fcMRI) during early periods of brain maturation. These methodologies have been successfully applied beginning in the neonatal period to increase understanding of how the brain both responds to environmental stimuli, and becomes organized into large-scale functional systems that support complex behaviors. We discuss the methodological challenges posed by this promising area of research. We also highlight that despite these challenges, early work indicates a strong potential for these methods to influence multiple research domains. As an example, we focus on the study of early life stress and its influence on brain development and mental health outcomes. We illustrate the promise of these methodologies for building on, and making important contributions to, the existing literature in this field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-39
Number of pages28
JournalDevelopmental Cognitive Neuroscience
StatePublished - Apr 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Support for this work was provided by NRSA F31-10667639 (AG); R00 MH091238 (DF), and R01 MH096773 (DF) .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.


  • Developmental neuroimaging
  • Developmental neuroscience
  • Early life stress
  • Infancy
  • Natural sleep fMRI
  • Resting state functional connectivity MRI


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