Transient patterns of regional, laminar, modular, neuronal, and functional organization are essential features of the developing cerebral cortex in preterm infants. Analysis of cytological, histological, histochemical, functional, and behavioral parameters revealed that transient cerebral patterns develop and change rapidly between 24 weeks post ovulation (W) and birth. The major afferent fibers (thalamocortical, basal forebrain, and corticocortical) grow through the transient "waiting" subplate zone (SP) compartment and accumulate below the cortical plate (CP) between 22 and 26 W. These afferent fibers gradually penetrate the CP after 26 W. The prolonged process of dissolution of the SP can be explained by prolonged growth and maturation of associative connections in the human cerebral cortex. The neurons and circuitry elements of the transient layers are the substrate for transient functional and behavioral patterns. The predominance of deep synapses and deep dendritic maturation underlies the immaturity and different polarity of the cortical electrical response in the preterm infant. The significant changes in the transient SP, together with profound changes in the transient architecture of the neocortical plate, parallel the changes observed in recent MRI studies. The role of the SP in the formation of cortical connections and functions is an important factor in considering the pathogenesis of cognitive deficits after brain lesions in the preterm infant.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.