Cerebrospinal fluid reference ranges in term and preterm infants in the neonatal intensive care unit

J Pediatr. 2012 Oct;161(4):729-34. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2012.03.051. Epub 2012 May 9.


Objective: To determine reference ranges of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) laboratory findings in term and preterm infants in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Study design: Data were collected prospectively as part of a multisite study of infants aged <6 months undergoing lumbar puncture for evaluation of suspected sepsis. Infants with a red blood cell count >500 cells/μL or a known cause of CSF pleocytosis were excluded from the analysis.

Results: A total of 318 infants met the inclusion criteria. Of these, 148 infants (47%) were preterm, and 229 (72%) received antibiotics before undergoing lumbar puncture. The upper reference limit of the CSF white blood cell (WBC) count was 12 cells/μL in preterm infants and 14 cells/μL in term infants. CSF protein levels were significantly higher in preterm infants (upper reference limit, 209 mg/dL vs 159 mg/dL in term infants; P < .001), and declined with advancing postnatal age in both groups (preterm, P = .008; term, P < .001). CSF glucose levels did not differ in term and preterm infants. Antibiotic exposure did not significantly affect CSF WBC, protein, or glucose values.

Conclusions: CSF WBC counts are not significantly different in preterm and term infants. CSF protein levels are higher and decline more slowly with postnatal age in preterm infants compared with term infants. This study provides CSF reference ranges for hospitalized preterm and term infants, particularly in the first month of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / chemistry*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Male
  • Reference Values