Objectives: To more precisely examine regional and subregional microstructural brain changes associated with preterm birth.
Study design: We obtained brain volumes from 29 preterm children, age 12 years, with no ultrasound scanning evidence of intraventricular hemorrhage or cystic periventricular leukomalacia in the newborn period, and 22 age- and sex-matched term control subjects.
Results: Preterm male subjects demonstrated significantly lower white matter volumes in bilateral cingulum, corpus callosum, corticospinal tract, prefrontal cortex, superior and inferior longitudinal fasciculi compared with term male subjects. Gray matter volumes in prefrontal cortex, basal ganglia, and temporal lobe also were significantly reduced in preterm male subjects. Brain volumes of preterm female subjects were not significantly different from those of term female control subjects. Voxel-based morphometry results were not correlated with perinatal variables or cognitive outcome. Higher maternal education was associated with higher cognitive performance in preterm male subjects.
Conclusions: Preterm male children continue to demonstrate abnormal neurodevelopment at 12 years of age. However, brain morphology in preterm female children may no longer differ from that of term female children. The neurodevelopmental abnormalities we detected in preterm male subjects appear to be relatively diffuse, involving multiple neural systems. The relationship between aberrant neurodevelopment and perinatal variables may be mediated by genetic factors, environmental factors, or both reflected in maternal education level.