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Neurology. 2013 Dec 10;81(24):2082-9. doi: 10.1212/01.wnl.0000437298.43688.b9. Epub 2013 Nov 8.

Abnormal brain maturation in preterm neonates associated with adverse developmental outcomes.

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  • 1From the Departments of Pediatrics (S.P.M.), Divisions of Neurology (V.C.) and Neonatology (A.S., R.E.G.), Radiology (K.J.P.), and Statistics (R.B.), BC Children's & Women's Hospitals and University of British Columbia, and the Child & Family Research Institute (V.C., A.S., R.E.G., K.J.P., R.B., S.P.M.), Vancouver; and Department of Pediatrics (S.P.M., V.C.), Neurology, the Hospital for Sick Children and University of Toronto, Canada.



Our objective was to determine the association of early brain maturation with neurodevelopmental outcome in premature neonates.


Neonates born between 24 and 32 weeks' gestation (April 2006 to August 2010) were prospectively studied with MRI early in life and again at term-equivalent age. Using diffusion tensor imaging and magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging, fractional anisotropy (FA) (microstructure) and N-acetylaspartate (NAA)/choline (metabolism) were measured from the basal nuclei, white matter tracts, and superior white matter. Brain maturation is characterized by increasing FA and NAA/choline from early in life to term-equivalent age. In premature neonates, systemic illness and critical care therapies have been linked to abnormalities of these measures. Of the 177 neonates in this cohort, 5 died and 157 (91% of survivors) were assessed at 18 months' corrected age (adjusted for prematurity) using the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development III motor, cognitive, and language composite scores (mean = 100, SD = 15).


Among these 157 infants, white matter injury was seen in 48 (30%). Severe white matter injury, in 10 neonates (6%), was associated with a decrease in motor (-18 points; p < 0.001) and cognitive (-8 points; p = 0.085) scores. With greater severity of adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes, slower increases in FA and NAA/choline were observed in the basal nuclei and brain white matter regions as neonates matured to term-equivalent age, independent of the presence of white matter injury.


In the preterm neonate, abnormal brain maturation evolves through the period of neonatal intensive care and is associated with adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes.

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