Widespread brain changes are present in preterm born infants, adolescents, and even adults. While neurobiological models of prematurity facilitate powerful explanations for the adverse effects of preterm birth on the developing brain at microscale, convincing linking principles at large-scale level to explain the widespread nature of brain changes are still missing. We investigated effects of preterm birth on the brain's large-scale intrinsic networks and their relation to brain structure in preterm born adults. In 95 preterm and 83 full-term born adults, structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging at-rest was used to analyze both voxel-based morphometry and spatial patterns of functional connectivity in ongoing blood oxygenation level-dependent activity. Differences in intrinsic functional connectivity (iFC) were found in cortical and subcortical networks. Structural differences were located in subcortical, temporal, and cingulate areas. Critically, for preterm born adults, iFC-network differences were overlapping and correlating with aberrant regional gray-matter (GM) volume specifically in subcortical and temporal areas. Overlapping changes were predicted by prematurity and in particular by neonatal medical complications. These results provide evidence that preterm birth has long-lasting effects on functional connectivity of intrinsic networks, and these changes are specifically related to structural alterations in ventral brain GM.
Keywords: brain structure; intrinsic network; preterm birth; preterm born adults; structure–function relationship.
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