Apnea commonly occurs in preterm infants and may persist beyond term. We prospectively investigated the relationship between apnea that persisted beyond 35 weeks post-conceptional age and subsequent neurodevelopment in early childhood. Between January, 1990-November, 1993, we performed predischarge respiratory recordings, using 24-hr, 4-channel pneumography, at 35 weeks or more of postconceptional age in 164 infants (birth weight, <1,250 g; gestational age, < or = 32 weeks), who subsequently underwent multidisciplinary neurodevelopmental assessment at 15-64 (median 24) months of adjusted age. The duration of initial artificial ventilation for respiratory distress syndrome and the grade of intraventricular hemorrhage were independent predictors of neurodevelopmental outcome. Mean oximetry desaturation and frequency of predischarge apnea correlated with mental and motor developmental scores. Mean oximetry desaturation during apnea was an independent predictor for motor score in the total population, and for both mental and motor scores in 50 infants with grade 3 or 4 intraventricular hemorrhage, but not in 114 infants without grade 3 or 4 intraventricular hemorrhage. Despite its limited predictability for early childhood neurodevelopment, predischarge respiratory recordings may be useful in predicting subsequent neurodevelopment of high-risk preterm infants, especially those with severe intraventricular hemorrhage.