Objectives: To test the hypothesis that the impact of postnatal sepsis/necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) on neurodevelopment may be mediated by white matter abnormality (WMA), which can be demonstrated with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Study design: A prospective cohort of 192 unselected preterm infants (gestational age <30 weeks), who were evaluated for sepsis and NEC, underwent imaging at term-equivalent age and neurodevelopmental outcome at 2 years corrected age with the Bayley Scales of Infant Development.
Results: Sixty-eight preterm (35%) infants had 100 episodes of confirmed sepsis, and 9 (5%) infants had confirmed NEC. Coagulase-negative staphylococci accounted for 73% (73/100) of the episodes of confirmed sepsis. Infants with sepsis/NEC had significantly more WMA on MRI at term compared with infants in the no-sepsis/NEC group. They also had poorer psychomotor development that persisted after adjusting for potential confounders but which became nonsignificant after adjusting for WMA.
Conclusions: Preterm infants with sepsis/NEC are at greater risk of motor impairment at 2 years, which appears to be mediated by WMA. These findings may assist in defining a neuroprotective target in preterm infants with sepsis/NEC.