Neonatal brain abnormalities associated with autism spectrum disorder in children born very preterm

Autism Res. 2016 May;9(5):543-52. doi: 10.1002/aur.1558. Epub 2015 Oct 7.


Very preterm (VP) survivors are at increased risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared with term-born children. This study explored whether neonatal magnetic resonance (MR) brain features differed in VP children with and without ASD at 7 years. One hundred and seventy-two VP children (<30 weeks' gestation or <1250 g birth weight) underwent structural brain MR scans at term equivalent age (TEA; 40 weeks' gestation ±2 weeks) and were assessed for ASD at 7 years of age. The presence and severity of white matter, cortical gray matter, deep nuclear gray matter, and cerebellar abnormalities were assessed, and total and regional brain volumes were measured. ASD was diagnosed using a standardized parent report diagnostic interview and confirmed via an independent assessment. Eight VP children (4.7%) were diagnosed with ASD. Children with ASD had more cystic lesions in the cortical white matter at TEA compared with those without ASD (odds ratio [OR] 8.7, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.5, 51.3, P = 0.02). There was also some evidence for smaller cerebellar volumes in children with ASD compared with those without ASD (OR = 0.82, CI = 0.66, 1.00, P = 0.06). Overall, the results suggest that VP children with ASD have different brain structure in the neonatal period compared with those who do not have ASD. Autism Res 2016, 9: 543-552. © 2015 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: autism spectrum disorder; brain abnormality; magnetic resonance imaging; neonatal imaging; preterm birth.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / pathology*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant, Extremely Premature*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Organ Size