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Monday, September 12, 2022

A longitudinal study of functional connectome uniqueness and its association with psychological distress in adolescence

Shan, Z.Y, Mohamed, A. Z. et al.
NeuroImage, Volume 258, 
September 2022, 119358


Each human brain has a unique functional synchronisation pattern (functional connectome) analogous to a fingerprint that underpins brain functions and related behaviours. Here we examine functional connectome (whole-brain and 13 networks) maturation by measuring its uniqueness in adolescents who underwent brain scans longitudinally from 12 years of age every four months. The uniqueness of a functional connectome is defined as its ratio of self-similarity (from the same subject at a different time point) to the maximal similarity-to-others (from a given subject and any others at a different time point). We found that the unique whole brain connectome exists in 12 years old adolescents, with 92% individuals having a whole brain uniqueness value greater than one. The cingulo-opercular network (CON; a long-acting ‘brain control network’ configuring information processing) demonstrated marginal uniqueness in early adolescence with 56% of individuals showing uniqueness greater than one (i.e., more similar to her/his own CON four months later than those from any other subjects) and this increased longitudinally. Notably, the low uniqueness of the CON correlates (β = -18.6, FDR-Q < < 0.001) with K10 levels at the subsequent time point. This association suggests that the individualisation of CON network is related to psychological distress levels. Our findings highlight the potential of longitudinal neuroimaging to capture mental health problems in young people who are undergoing profound neuroplasticity and environment sensitivity period.


• Functional connectome uniqueness in adolescents was examined using a temporally rich (up to 9 time points) and a well-controlled (fixed 4 months interval) longitudinal study.

• A unique functional connectome exists at 12 years old.

• The cingulo-opercular network (a long-acting ‘brain control network’ configuring information processing) demonstrated marginal uniqueness.

• Uniqueness indices of the cingulo-opercular network were significantly and negatively associated with the subsequent psychological distress.


In sum, this study confirmed that a unique whole-brain functional connectome exists and is stable over 16 months in early adolescents. For the first time, this study characterised the development of ‘brain control networks’ in adolescents. An individually unique frontoparietal network for immediate information processing exists in early adolescence. Meanwhile, a unique CON for long-acting brain configuration is marginal. We posit that the maturation of CON provides a biological explanation of increased vulnerability in adolescents, which is further confirmed by the finding that CON uniqueness indices are associated with psychological distress measures. Our findings provide support for the notion that a ‘brain signature’ may be utilised in monitoring psychological distress in young people.