Neonatal hypoxia, hippocampal atrophy, and memory impairment: evidence of a causal sequence

Cereb Cortex. 2015 Jun;25(6):1469-76. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht332. Epub 2013 Dec 15.


Neonates treated for acute respiratory failure experience episodes of hypoxia. The hippocampus, a structure essential for memory, is particularly vulnerable to such insults. Hence, some neonates undergoing treatment for acute respiratory failure might sustain bilateral hippocampal pathology early in life and memory problems later in childhood. We investigated this possibility in a cohort of 40 children who had been treated neonatally for acute respiratory failure but were free of overt neurological impairment. The cohort had mean hippocampal volumes (HVs) significantly below normal control values, memory scores significantly below the standard population means, and memory quotients significantly below those predicted by their full scale IQs. Brain white matter volume also fell below the volume of the controls, but brain gray matter volumes and scores on nonmnemonic neuropsychological tests were within the normal range. Stepwise linear regression models revealed that the cohort's HVs were predictive of degree of memory impairment, and gestational age at treatment was predictive of HVs: the younger the age, the greater the atrophy. We conclude that many neonates treated for acute respiratory failure sustain significant hippocampal atrophy as a result of the associated hypoxia and, consequently, show deficient memory later in life.

Keywords: developmental amnesia; hippocampal volumes; hypoxia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Atrophy / etiology
  • Checklist
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / etiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pretectal Region
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / complications*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / pathology*
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Verbal Learning