The effects of repeated antenatal glucocorticoid therapy on the developing brain

Pediatr Res. 2001 Nov;50(5):581-5. doi: 10.1203/00006450-200111000-00008.


Antenatal glucocorticoid (GC) therapy improves infant outcome following preterm birth. As approximately 50% of women given a first course of antenatal GCs remain undelivered 7-14 d later, many clinicians administer further courses. GCs are known to be neurotoxic and there is concern that exposure during early development may have adverse effects on the immature brain. The aim of this investigation was to compare magnetic resonance (MR) indices of brain maturation in infants exposed to repeated antenatal GC therapy and born at or close to term, with non-GC exposed control infants. MR images were obtained during quiet sleep without sedation. T1 weighted volume images were obtained in the sagittal plane and T1, T2 weighted spin echo and inversion recovery images in the transverse plane. Brain volume and surface area were calculated from segmented image slices, and a measure of the complexity of cortical folding, the whole cortex convolution index (WCCI), from computerized analysis of a vector coded contour following algorithm. Analysis of covariance was used to compare the two groups after allowing for the effect of postmenstrual age. There were 10 infants in the GC group (range of antenatal GC exposure, 3-11 courses) and 6 controls. Each GC course comprised two 12-mg IM doses of betamethasone 24 h apart. GC exposed infants had a significantly lower WCCI (p = 0.001) and smaller surface area (p = 0.02), after allowing for postmenstrual age. There was no significant difference in brain volume (p = 0.5). Repeated antenatal GC exposure results in measurable differences in brain maturation when compared with gestational age matched non-GC exposed controls. The clinical relevance of these observations is not known.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Betamethasone / administration & dosage
  • Betamethasone / pharmacology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / embryology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / administration & dosage
  • Glucocorticoids / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Pregnancy


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Betamethasone