Preterm infants have a high prevalence of long-term cognitive and behavioral disturbances. However, it is not known whether the stresses associated with premature birth disrupt regionally specific brain maturation or whether abnormalities in brain structure contribute to cognitive deficits.
To determine whether regional brain volumes differ between term and preterm children and to examine the association of regional brain volumes in prematurely born children with long-term cognitive outcomes.
Case-control study conducted in 1998 and 1999 at 2 US university medical schools.
A consecutive sample of 25 eight-year-old preterm children recruited from a longitudinal follow-up study of preterm infants and 39 term control children who were recruited from the community and who were comparable with the preterm children in age, sex, maternal education, and minority status.
Volumes of cortical subdivisions, ventricular system, cerebellum, basal ganglia, corpus callosum, amygdala, and hippocampus, derived from structural magnetic resonance imaging scans and compared between preterm and term children; correlations of regional brain volumes with cognitive measures (at age 8 years) and perinatal variables among preterm children.
Regional cortical volumes were significantly smaller in the preterm children, most prominently in sensorimotor regions (difference: left, 14.6%; right, 14.3% [P<.001 for both]) but also in premotor (left, 11.2%; right, 12.6% [P<.001 for both]), midtemporal (left, 7.4% [P =.01]; right, 10.2% [P<.001]), parieto-occipital (left, 7.9% [P =.01]; right, 7.4% [P =.005]), and subgenual (left, 8.9% [P =.03]; right, 11.7% [P =.01]) cortices. Preterm children's brain volumes were significantly larger (by 105. 7%-271.6%) in the occipital and temporal horns of the ventricles (P<. 001 for all) and smaller in the cerebellum (6.7%; P =.02), basal ganglia (11.4%-13.8%; P</=.005), amygdala (left, 20.2% [P =.001]; right, 30.0% [P<.001]), hippocampus (left, 16.0% [P =.001]; right, 12.0% [P =.007]), and corpus callosum (13.1%-35.2%; P</=.01 for all). Volumes of sensorimotor and midtemporal cortices were associated positively with full-scale, verbal, and performance IQ scores (P<.01 for all).
Our data indicate that preterm birth is associated with regionally specific, long-term reductions in brain volume and that morphological abnormalities are, in turn, associated with poorer cognitive outcome. JAMA. 2000;284:1939-1947.