According to a recent report, a Washington University team finds link between premature birth and weaker brain connections that may lead to further health complications including increased risk of ADHD, autism, anxiety and other neurological dysfunctions.
Researchers said that brain scans of 138 babies showed that babies born before due date, or preemies, display differences in their brain networks that may translate in emotional and social impairments later in their lives.
Scientists know that babies’ brains are extremely ‘plastic’ in the first months of life, so they sought evidence that premature birth has some negative impact on the infants’ brains and emotional intelligence.
“The brain is particularly ‘plastic’ very early in life and potentially could be modified by early intervention,”
said Dr. Cynthia Rogers, lead author of the study and child psychiatry expert at WU School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Dr. Rogers added that doctors cannot perform interventions if there are no symptoms. Yet, the new study tries to tie premature birth to later problems in order to give early interventions the green light.
The study’s results were unveiled Monday during the annual scientific gathering of the Society for Neuroscience. According to official reports, one in nine babies born in the U.S. are delivered prematurely. This may boost their risk of ADHD, ASD and impair their cognitive and motor functions.
Dr. Rogers and her fellow researchers analyzed the MRI and DTI brain scans of 58 full-term babies and 76 preemies. Scans clearly showed that there were neurological differences between the two groups.
The preemies involved in the study were born at maximum 10 weeks earlier. Scientists found that their brains displayed differences in key regions that were responsible for communication skills, attention and processing of emotions. Past studies showed that the same areas were affected in kids living with ADHD or autism.
Study authors also reported that they found abnormalities in white matter and brain circuits of prematurely born babies. They explained that these babies’ key brain regions didn’t properly connect to one another in resting state. And this may lead to later developmental and learning problems.
The most striking abnormalities were recorded in the frontoparietal network and a default-mode network which is mostly active when the subject is at sleep. But the problems caused by these abnormalities would not emerge until children are slightly older.
Scientists plan to monitor the infants for up to a decade. They also plan to perform more brain scans when study participants reach the age of 2, 5 respectively 9 or 10.
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