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Neuroimage. 2013 Apr 15;70:278-87. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.12.053. Epub 2013 Jan 4.

Hippocampal shape variations at term equivalent age in very preterm infants compared with term controls: perinatal predictors and functional significance at age 7.

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Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia.


The hippocampus undergoes rapid growth and development in the perinatal months. Infants born very preterm (VPT) are vulnerable to hippocampal alterations, and can provide a model of disturbed early hippocampal development. Hippocampal shape alterations have previously been associated with memory impairment, but have never been investigated in infants. The aims of this study were to determine hippocampal shape differences between 184 VPT infants (<30 weeks' gestation or <1250 g at birth) and 32 full-term infants, effects of perinatal factors, and associations between infant hippocampal shape and volume, and 7 year verbal and visual memory (California Verbal Learning Test - Children's Version and Dot Locations). Infants underwent 1.5 T magnetic resonance imaging at term equivalent age. Hippocampi were segmented, and spherical harmonics-point distribution model shape analysis was undertaken. VPT infants' hippocampi were less infolded than full-term infants, being less curved toward the midline and less arched superior-inferiorly. Straighter hippocampi were associated with white matter injury and postnatal corticosteroid exposure. There were no significant associations between infant hippocampal shape and 7 year memory measures. However, larger infant hippocampal volumes were associated with better verbal memory scores. Altered hippocampal shape in VPT infants at term equivalent age may reflect delayed or disrupted development. This study provides further insight into early hippocampal development and the nature of hippocampal abnormalities in prematurity.

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