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Pediatrics. 2001 Apr;107(4):664-70.

Bilirubin and serial auditory brainstem responses in premature infants.

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Department of Pediatrics, Division of Neonatology, Children's Hospital at Strong, Rochester, New York, USA.



To determine the usefulness of the bilirubin-albumin (B:A) molar ratio (MR) and unbound bilirubin (UB) as compared with serum total bilirubin (TB) in predicting bilirubin encephalopathy as assessed by auditory brainstem responses (ABR) in infants of 28 to 32 weeks' gestational age.


During a 2-year period, serial ABRs were obtained on 143 infants of 28 to 32 weeks' gestational age during the first postnatal week. Waveforms were categorized on the basis of response replicability and the presence of waves III and V. Wave V latencies were also serially analyzed when measurable for individual infants. Maturation of the ABR was defined as abnormal when the waveform category worsened and/or latency increased during the study interval. Serum albumin was analyzed at 48 to 72 hours of age in all patients. Serum TB was analyzed as clinically indicated. Aliquots of the same samples were also analyzed for UB in a subset of infants.


The mean peak TB concentration (10.1 +/- 1.7 mg/dL) for the 71 infants with normal ABR maturation was not significantly different from the mean peak TB (10.2 +/- 2.1 mg/dL) in the 24-hour period preceding the ABR's first showing abnormal maturation in the other 55 infants. However, in infants with UB analyzed, the mean peak UB (0.62 +/- 0.20 vs 0.40 +/- 0.15 microg/dL) was significantly higher in the infants with abnormal maturation (n = 25) than in infants with normal maturation (n = 20). The B:A MR results were equivocal. In the entire study population, there was no difference in B:A MR between infants with normal versus abnormal ABR maturation. However, in the subset of infants in whom UB was measured, although TB was not different, there was a significant difference in B:A MR. Based on receiver-operating characteristic curves, a UB level of 0.5 microg/dL was the best discriminator with a sensitivity of 70% and a specificity of 75%. The proportion of infants who had UB >0.5 microg/dL and UB </=0.5 microg/dL and who had abnormal ABR, maturation was 0.81 and 0.33, respectively, with a significant difference in the incidence of transient bilirubin encephalopathy among these 2 groups. The relative risk of abnormal ABR maturation with UB >0.5 microg/dL compared with UB </=0.05 microg/dL was 2.45 (95% confidence interval: 1.33-4.49).


UB is a more sensitive predictor than either serum bilirubin or B:A MR of abnormal ABR maturation, and hence transient bilirubin encephalopathy in premature newborns with hyperbilirubinemia.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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