Antenatal glucocorticoid treatment and cystic periventricular leukomalacia in very premature infants

N Engl J Med. 1999 Oct 14;341(16):1190-6. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199910143411604.


Background: Antenatal glucocorticoid therapy decreases the incidence of several complications among very premature infants. However, its effect on the occurrence of cystic periventricular leukomalacia, a major cause of cerebral palsy, remains unknown.

Methods: We retrospectively analyzed a cohort of 883 live-born infants, with gestational ages ranging from 24 to 31 weeks, who were born between January 1993 and December 1996 at three perinatal centers in the Paris area. The mothers of 361 infants had received betamethasone before delivery, the mothers of 165 infants had received dexamethasone before delivery, and the mothers of 357 infants did not receive glucocorticoids. We compared the rates of cystic periventricular leukomalacia among the three groups of infants in bivariate and multivariate analyses after adjustment for confounding factors.

Results: The rate of cystic periventricular leukomalacia was 4.4 percent among the infants whose mothers had received betamethasone, 11.0 percent among the infants whose mothers had received dexamethasone, and 8.4 percent among the infants whose mothers had not received a glucocorticoid. After adjustment for gestational age, the mode of delivery, and the presence or absence of chorioamnionitis, prolonged interval between the rupture of membranes and delivery (>24 hours), preeclampsia, and the use of tocolytic drugs, antenatal exposure to betamethasone was associated with a lower risk of cystic periventricular leukomalacia than was either the absence of glucocorticoid therapy (adjusted odds ratio, 0.5; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.2 to 0.9) or exposure to dexamethasone (adjusted odds ratio, 0.3; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.1 to 0.7). The adjusted odds ratio for the group of infants whose mothers had received dexamethasone as compared with the group of infants whose mothers had not received a glucocorticoid was 1.5 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.8 to 2.9).

Conclusions: Antenatal exposure to betamethasone but not dexamethasone is associated with a decreased risk of cystic periventricular leukomalacia among very premature infants.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Betamethasone / therapeutic use*
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Dexamethasone / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Leukomalacia, Periventricular / prevention & control*
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Care
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Dexamethasone
  • Betamethasone