Intermittent bursts of electrical activity are a ubiquitous signature of very early brain activity. Previous studies have largely focused on assessing the amplitudes of these transient cortical bursts or the intervals between them. Recent advances in basic neuroscience have identified the presence of scale-free 'avalanche' processes in bursting patterns of cortical activity in other clinical contexts. Here, we hypothesize that cortical bursts in human preterm infants also exhibit scale-free properties, providing new insights into the nature, temporal evolution, and prognostic value of spontaneous brain activity in the days immediately following preterm birth. We examined electroencephalographic recordings from 43 extremely preterm infants (gestational age 22-28 weeks) and demonstrated that their cortical bursts exhibit scale-free properties as early as 12 h after birth. The scaling relationships of cortical bursts correlate significantly with later mental development-particularly within the first 12 h of life. These findings show that early preterm brain activity is characterized by scale-free dynamics which carry developmental significance, hence offering novel means for rapid and early clinical prediction of neurodevelopmental outcomes.
Keywords: brain monitoring; bursts; long-term outcome; preterm; scale-free; spontaneous activity transient.
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