Premature Birth Linked To Weak Brain Connections - Study
A new study has found that premature babies have weaker brain connections, which can lead to cognitive issues in later life.
The study found that the weakened connections are associated with attention, communication as well as the processing of emotions, writes Red Orbit.
The recent study could lead to early interventions for cognitive issues associated with premature birth.
"The brain is particularly 'plastic' very early in life and potentially could be modified by early intervention," study author Dr. Cynthia Rogers, a child psychiatrist at Washington University of St. Louis, said in a statement.
"We usually can't begin interventions until after symptoms develop, but what we're trying to do is develop objective measures of brain development in preemies that can indicate whether a child is likely to have later problems so that we can then intervene with extra support and therapy early on to try to improve outcomes," she added.
In the United States, one out of nine babies is born premature, giving them a heightened risk of cognitive problems, problems with motor skills, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders as well as anxiety issues, writes Red Orbit.
Researchers used a number of brain scans - using functional magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor brain imaging -- to assess 134 babies. Of these infants, 58 were full term at the time of birth, and 75 were born at lease 10 weeks early. Full-term babies were scanned two or three days after birth, while those born prematurely were scanned two or three days after their due date.
After examining the images, the researchers found that the brain networks involved in processing attention, communication and emotions were weaker in infants who had been born prematurely, which could explain why premature infants go on to have a higher risk of developing psychiatric problems.
"We found significant differences in the white matter tracts and abnormalities in brain circuits in the infants born early, compared with those of infants born at full term," Rogers said. White matter tracts in link brain regions to form networks.
Researchers also found contrasting imaging in the resting-state brain networks when comparing the premature images with those of full-term infants. These differences were found in the networks responsible for learning and developmental issues. Brain circuitry found in these networks have been linked to the development of ADHD and autism spectrum disorders.
The team has extended the study to cover a longer time-period, following both sets of infants until the ages of 9 or 10. Evaluations for all children at age 2 have already been carried out, with some scheduled for another evaluation at age 5. Researchers have indicated that more brain scans will be taken when the participants are aged 9 or 10.
"We're analyzing the data we've already gathered, but we want to bring the children back when they are 9 or 10 and continue to follow their development," Rogers said. "We want to look at the evolution of brain development in full-term versus preterm babies, and we want to know how that may affect who is impaired and who is not."
The research was presented at Neuroscience 2015, the annual scientific meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.