Is prematurity associated with adult cognitive outcome and brain structure?

Pediatr Neurol. 2011 Jan;44(1):12-20. doi: 10.1016/j.pediatrneurol.2010.07.002.


Previous studies have indicated that preterm birth and low birth weight are associated with structural brain abnormalities and neurocognitive deficits in childhood and adolescence, although very few studies have included follow-up in adulthood. Here we assessed the effect of preterm delivery (524 subjects; mean 34.6 weeks, S.D. = 1.7) or low birth weight (366 subjects; mean 2159 g, S.D. = 303) on educational and occupational outcomes at age 31 years in the Northern Finland 1966 Birth Cohort, along with 10,132 term, normal birth weight control subjects. Cognitive tests and brain morphology using magnetic resonance imaging were assessed at age 33-35 years in a subset of the cohort (9 subjects; 95 controls). The preterm or low birth weight subjects had slightly lower school ratings and lower educational levels in adulthood, and they performed worse in verbal learning. The low birth weight subjects were less likely to be employed. There were no mean differences in the magnetic resonance imaging tissue segmentation analysis of the brain. In conclusion, although there were no overall changes in brain morphology in the preterm or low birth weight group, there was evidence for slightly poorer educational and occupational careers and cognitive capacity, which may reflect functional disruption not evident in structure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Career Choice
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Education
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Infant
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / psychology*
  • Learning / physiology
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pregnancy
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Verbal Learning / physiology
  • Young Adult