Background: Maternal exposure to adversity during pregnancy has been found to affect infant brain development; however, the specific effect of prenatal crime exposure on neonatal brain connectivity remains unclear. Based on existing research, we hypothesized that living in a high-crime neighborhood during pregnancy would affect neonatal frontolimbic connectivity over and above other individual- and neighborhood-level adversity and that these associations would be mediated by maternal psychosocial stress. Methods: Participants included 399 pregnant women, recruited as part of the eLABE (Early Life Adversity, Biological Embedding, and Risk for Developmental Precursors of Mental Disorders) study. In the neonatal period, 319 healthy, nonsedated infants were scanned using resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (repetition time = 800 ms; echo time = 37 ms; voxel size = 2.0 × 2.0 × 2.0 mm3; multiband = 8) on a Prisma 3T scanner and had at least 10 minutes of high-quality data. Crime data at the block group level were obtained from Applied Geographic Solution. Linear regressions and mediation models tested associations between crime, frontolimbic connectivity, and psychosocial stress. Results: Living in a neighborhood with high property crime during pregnancy was related to weaker neonatal functional connectivity between the thalamus–anterior default mode network (aDMN) (β = −0.15, 95% CI = −0.25 to −0.04, p =.008). Similarly, high neighborhood violent crime was related to weaker functional connectivity between the thalamus-aDMN (β = −0.16, 95% CI = −0.29 to −0.04, p =.01) and amygdala-hippocampus (β = −0.16, 95% CI = −0.29 to −0.03, p =.02), controlling for other types of adversity. Psychosocial stress partially mediated relationships between the thalamus-aDMN and both violent and property crime. Conclusions: These findings suggest that prenatal exposure to crime is associated with weaker neonatal limbic and frontal functional brain connections, providing another reason for targeted public policy interventions to reduce crime.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-148
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 15 2022


  • Adversity
  • Functional connectivity
  • Neighborhood crime
  • Neonates
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress


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