We evaluated whether the volume and growth rate of critical brain structures measured by MRI in the first weeks of life following very preterm (<32/40 weeks) birth could predict subsequent neurodevelopmental outcomes at 4 years of age. A significant proportion of children born very prematurely have cognitive deficits, but these problems are often only detected at early school age. Structural T2-weighted magnetic resonance images were acquired in 96 very preterm neonates scanned within 2 weeks of birth and 70 of these at term-equivalent age. An automated 3D image analysis procedure was used to measure the volume of selected brain structures across all scans and time points. At 4 years of age, 53 children returned for neuropsychological assessments evaluating IQ, language and visual motor integration. Associations with maternal education and perinatal measures were also explored. Multiple regression analyses revealed that growth of the caudate and globus pallidus between preterm birth and term-equivalent age predicted visual motor integration scores after controlling for sex and gestational age. Further associations were found between caudate and putamen growth with IQ and language scores. Analyses at either preterm or term-equivalent age only found associations between normalized deep grey matter growth and visual motor integration scores at term-equivalent age. Maternal education levels were associated with measures of IQ and language, but not visual motor integration. Thalamic growth was additionally linked with perinatal measures and presence of white matter lesions. These results highlight deep grey matter growth rates as promising biomarkers of long-term outcomes following very preterm birth, and contribute to our understanding of the brain-behaviour relations in these children.
Keywords: Basal ganglia; Cognitive outcome; Magnetic resonance imaging; Neonate; Preterm birth.
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