Low childhood socioeconomic status (SES) predisposes individuals to altered trajectories of brain development and increased rates of mental illness. Brain connectivity at birth is associated with psychiatric outcomes. We sought to investigate whether SES at birth is associated with neonatal brain connectivity and if these differences account for socioeconomic disparities in infant symptoms at age 2 years that are predictive of psychopathology. Resting state functional MRI was performed on 75 full-term and 37 term-equivalent preterm newborns (n = 112). SES was characterized by insurance type, the Area Deprivation Index, and a composite score. Seed-based voxelwise linear regression related SES to whole-brain functional connectivity of five brain regions representing functional networks implicated in psychiatric illnesses and affected by socioeconomic disadvantage: striatum, medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC), and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. Lower SES was associated with differences in striatum and vlPFC connectivity. Striatum connectivity with frontopolar and medial PFC mediated the relationship between SES and behavioral inhibition at age 2 measured by the Infant-Toddler Social Emotional Assessment (n = 46). Striatum-frontopolar connectivity mediated the relationship between SES and externalizing symptoms. These results, convergent across three SES metrics, suggest that neurodevelopmental trajectories linking SES and mental illness may begin as early as birth.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100811
JournalDevelopmental Cognitive Neuroscience
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Externalizing
  • Functional connectivity
  • Neonatal neuroimaging
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Striatum


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