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Maternal prenatal distress (PD), frequently defined as in utero prenatal stress exposure (PSE) to the developing fetus, influences the developing brain and numerous associations between PSE and brain structure have been described both in neonates and in older children. Previous studies addressing PSE-linked alterations in neonates' brain activity have focused on connectivity analyses from predefined seed regions, but the effects of PSE at the level of distributed functional networks remains unclear. In this study, we investigated the impact of prenatal distress on the spatial and temporal properties of functional networks detected in functional MRI data from 20 naturally sleeping, term-born (age 25.85 ± 7.72 days, 11 males), healthy neonates. First, we performed group level independent component analysis (GICA) to evaluate an association between PD and the identified functional networks. Second, we searched for an association with PD at the level of the stability of functional networks over time using leading eigenvector dynamics analysis (LEiDA). No statistically significant associations were detected at the spatial level for the GICA-derived networks. However, at the dynamic level, LEiDA revealed that maternal PD negatively associated with the stability of a frontoparietal network. These results imply that maternal PD may influence the stability of frontoparietal connections in neonatal brain network dynamics and adds to the cumulating evidence that frontal areas are especially sensitive to PSE. We advocate for early preventive intervention strategies regarding pregnant mothers. Nevertheless, future research venues are required to assess optimal intervention timing and methods for maximum benefit.

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LEiDA, Neonate, dynamic functional connectivity, maternal distress, prenatal stress exposure, resting-state networks, Male, Infant, Newborn, Pregnancy, Female, Child, Humans, Stress, Psychological, Brain, Brain Mapping, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Mothers