Objective: To investigate the association of morphine exposure in very preterm infants with cerebral volumes and neurodevelopmental outcome from birth through middle childhood.
Study design: Observational study of very preterm infants in the Victorian Infant Brain Study cohort. A total of 230 infants born <30 weeks' gestational age or <1250 g were recruited from all admissions to the neonatal intensive care unit of the Royal Women's Hospital. Fifty-seven (25%) infants received morphine analgesia during their neonatal intensive care unit stay at the attending physician's discretion. Primary outcomes were regional brain volumes at term and 7 years; neurobehavioral performance at term; and cognitive, motor, emotional, behavioral, communication, and executive function scores at age 2 and 7 years. Linear regressions were used to compare outcomes between participants who did and did not receive morphine.
Results: At term, preterm infants who received morphine had similar rates of gray matter injury to no-morphine infants, but a trend toward smaller cortical volumes in the orbitofrontal (Pleft=.002, Pright=.01) and subgenual (Pleft=.01) regions. At 7 years, cortical volumes did not differ between groups. At 2 years, morphine-exposed children were more likely to show behavioral dysregulation (P=.007) than no-morphine children, but at 7 years no detrimental impacts of morphine on neurobehavioral outcome were observed.
Conclusions: Low-dose morphine analgesia received during neonatal intensive care was associated with early alterations in cerebral structure and short-term neurobehavioral problems that did not persist into childhood.
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