Neonatal MRI to predict neurodevelopmental outcomes in preterm infants

N Engl J Med. 2006 Aug 17;355(7):685-94. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa053792.


Background: Very preterm infants are at high risk for adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been proposed as a means of predicting neurodevelopmental outcomes in this population.

Methods: We studied 167 very preterm infants (gestational age at birth, 30 weeks or less) to assess the associations between qualitatively defined white-matter and gray-matter abnormalities on MRI at term equivalent (gestational age of 40 weeks) and the risks of severe cognitive delay, severe psychomotor delay, cerebral palsy, and neurosensory (hearing or visual) impairment at 2 years of age (corrected for prematurity).

Results: At two years of age, 17 percent of infants had severe cognitive delay, 10 percent had severe psychomotor delay, 10 percent had cerebral palsy, and 11 percent had neurosensory impairment. Moderate-to-severe cerebral white-matter abnormalities present in 21 percent of infants at term equivalent were predictive of the following adverse outcomes at two years of age: cognitive delay (odds ratio, 3.6; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.5 to 8.7), motor delay (odds ratio, 10.3; 95 percent confidence interval, 3.5 to 30.8), cerebral palsy (odds ratio, 9.6; 95 percent confidence interval, 3.2 to 28.3), and neurosensory impairment (odds ratio, 4.2; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.6 to 11.3). Gray-matter abnormalities (present in 49 percent of infants) were also associated, but less strongly, with cognitive delay, motor delay, and cerebral palsy. Moderate-to-severe white-matter abnormalities on MRI were significant predictors of severe motor delay and cerebral palsy after adjustment for other measures during the neonatal period, including findings on cranial ultrasonography.

Conclusions: Abnormal findings on MRI at term equivalent in very preterm infants strongly predict adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes at two years of age. These findings suggest a role for MRI at term equivalent in risk stratification for these infants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition
  • Developmental Disabilities / diagnosis
  • Developmental Disabilities / epidemiology*
  • Echoencephalography
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Risk Factors