The brains of children who were born just a few
weeks early differ from those born on time, and these differences may affect
learning and behavior, according to a study to be presented Monday, May 5, at
the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Vancouver, British
Studies have shown
that children who were born between 34 and 36 weeks’ gestation (late preterm)
have more social, behavioral and academic problems than children born at full
term (37-41 weeks). However, few studies have looked at the brain structure of
late preterm children.
Researchers from the University
of Iowa conducted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans on 32 children ages 7-13
years old who were born at 34-36 weeks’ gestation. In addition, they
administered cognitive tests to the children, including the Wechsler
Intelligence Scale for Children, Benton Judgment of Line Orientation (which assesses
visual perception), Grooved Pegboard (which assesses fine motor skills and coordination)
and Children’s Memory Scale. Parents also completed a behavioral assessment.
Results were compared
to 64 children born at full term who were recruited for another study in which
they completed the same cognitive and behavioral assessments, neurological
exam, and MRI sequences as the late preterm group.
showed differences in both cognitive function and brain structure in the late
preterm children compared to full term children. Functionally, late preterm
children had more difficulties with visuospatial reasoning and visual memory. They also had slower processing speed.
Processing speed refers to the ability to perform automatically a simple
task in an efficient manner. Children with slower processing speed may require more
time in the classroom setting to accomplish a task.
brains of late preterm children had less total cerebral white matter, which is critical
to communication between nerve cells, and smaller thalami, a brain region
involved in sensory and motor signaling.
“Late preterm birth
accounts for 8 percent of all births each year in the United States, making it a
public health issue,” said presenting author Jane E. Brumbaugh, MD, FAAP, associate,
University of Iowa Stead Family Department of Pediatrics. “The effects of late
preterm birth on the brain have not yet been fully characterized, and it has been
assumed that there are no significant consequences to being born a few weeks early.
Our preliminary findings show that children born late preterm have differences
in brain structure and deficits in specific cognitive skills compared to
children born full term.”
Parents of late
preterm children also reported more problems with hyperactivity, inattention,
opposition and aggression than parents of full term children.
“The developing brain
is vulnerable to what most might consider a minor ‘insult’ in being
born late preterm.
Moreover, these effects are enduring,” said senior author Peggy C. Nopoulos,
of psychiatry, neurology and pediatrics with University of Iowa Health Care.
Dr. Brumbaugh will present “Late Preterm Children Demonstrate
Altered Brain Function and Structure at School Age” from 3:30-3:45 p.m. Monday,
May 5. To view the study abstract, go to http://www.abstracts2view.com/pas/view.php?nu=PAS14L1_3670.1.
This study was supported by grants from Stead
Family Department of Pediatrics, University of Iowa, and Iowa Neonatology
Investment Program, Division of Neonatology, University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.
Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) are four individual pediatric organizations
that co-sponsor the PAS Annual Meeting – the American Pediatric Society, the
Society for Pediatric Research, the Academic Pediatric Association, and the
American Academy of Pediatrics. Members of these organizations are
pediatricians and other health care providers who are practicing in the research,
academic and clinical arenas. The four sponsoring organizations are leaders in
the advancement of pediatric research and child advocacy within pediatrics, and
all share a common mission of fostering the health and well-being of children
worldwide. For more information, visit www.pas-meeting.org. Follow news of the PAS meeting on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PedAcadSoc.