Specific relations between neurodevelopmental abilities and white matter microstructure in children born preterm

Brain. 2008 Dec;131(Pt 12):3201-8. doi: 10.1093/brain/awn268. Epub 2008 Oct 24.


Survivors of preterm birth have a high incidence of neurodevelopmental impairment which is not explained by currently understood brain abnormalities. The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that the neurodevelopmental abilities of 2-year-old children who were born preterm and who had no evidence of focal abnormality on conventional MR imaging were consistently linearly related to specific local changes in white matter microstructure. We studied 33 children, born at a median (range) gestational age of 28(+5) (24(+4)-32(+1)) weeks. The children were recruited as infants from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Queen Charlotte's and Hammersmith Hospital in the early neonatal period and imaged at a median corrected age of 25.5 (24-27) months. The children underwent diffusion tensor imaging to measure fractional anisotropy (FA) as a measure of tissue microstructure, and neurodevelopmental assessment using the Griffiths Mental Development Scales [giving an overall developmental quotient (DQ) and sub-quotients scores for motor, personal-social, hearing-language, eye-hand coordination and performance scales] at 2 years corrected age. Tract-based spatial statistics with linear regression analysis of voxel-wise cross-subject statistics were used to assess the relationship between FA and DQ/sub-quotient scores and results confirmed by reduced major axis regression of regions with significant correlations. We found that DQ was linearly related to FA values in parts of the corpus callosum; performance sub-scores to FA values in the corpus callosum and right cingulum; and eye-hand coordination sub-scores to FA values in the cingulum, fornix, anterior commissure, corpus callosum and right uncinate fasciculus. This study shows that specific neurodevelopmental impairments in infants born preterm are precisely related to microstructural abnormalities in particular regions of cerebral white matter which are consistent between individuals. FA may aid prognostication and provide a biomarker for therapeutic or mechanistic studies of preterm brain injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Child Development
  • Corpus Callosum / pathology
  • Developmental Disabilities / pathology*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / psychology*
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychometrics
  • Psychomotor Performance