Preterm infants have altered brain development

According to a study performed by Canadian scientists, preterm infants have significantly slowed cerebral development as they approach their intended delivery date. The research has been published on the 16th of January in Science Translational Medicine.

The cerebral cortex ‘envelopes’ the brain and is composed of a 2-4 mm thick layer of neurons. Correct formation of this cortical layer is essential for a multitude of our cognitive, behavioural and motor processes. Preterm babies have not had the same gestational period for normal brain development as have babies carried to term.

In this Canadian study, the team took 95 infants who had been delivered between 8 and 16 weeks pre-term. The data were collected over a period of three years; infant length, weight and head-size were all recorded. The researchers also took MRI scans of the new-born babies; subsequent scans were performed in what would have been the ninth month of gestation – i.e. around the time that these infants should have been born. MRI scans indicate water distribution in the brain. This distribution changes during brain development. Babies with slow overall growth had delayed development of their cerebral cortex as compared to infants who grew at an advanced rate.

“These results are an exciting first step…understanding the importance of growth in relation to the brain in these small babies may eventually lead to new discoveries that will help us optimize their brain development” – this is according to the co-director of this study, Dr Steven Millar.

The infants in this study will be followed throughout childhood so that researchers can monitor their mental development and compare this with infants who were born at full term. This research could have implications for the treatment of premature babies. Ideally, clinicians with improved understanding of foetal brain development could then offer preterm infants the support required for them to reach ideal neurodevelopmental outcomes.




















About Sophie McManus

Sophie is a third year undergraduate studying Biomedical Sciences at Magdalen.