Impaired visual short-term memory capacity is distinctively associated with structural connectivity of the posterior thalamic radiation and the splenium of the corpus callosum in preterm-born adults

Neuroimage. 2017 Apr 15;150:68-76. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.02.017. Epub 2017 Feb 7.


Preterm birth is associated with an increased risk for lasting changes in both the cortico-thalamic system and attention; however, the link between cortico-thalamic and attention changes is as yet little understood. In preterm newborns, cortico-cortical and cortico-thalamic structural connectivity are distinctively altered, with increased local clustering for cortico-cortical and decreased integrity for cortico-thalamic connectivity. In preterm-born adults, among the various attention functions, visual short-term memory (vSTM) capacity is selectively impaired. We hypothesized distinct associations between vSTM capacity and the structural integrity of cortico-thalamic and cortico-cortical connections, respectively, in preterm-born adults. A whole-report paradigm of briefly presented letter arrays based on the computationally formalized Theory of Visual Attention (TVA) was used to quantify parameter vSTM capacity in 26 preterm- and 21 full-term-born adults. Fractional anisotropy (FA) of posterior thalamic radiations and the splenium of the corpus callosum obtained by diffusion tensor imaging were analyzed by tract-based spatial statistics and used as proxies for cortico-thalamic and cortico-cortical structural connectivity. The relationship between vSTM capacity and cortico-thalamic and cortico-cortical connectivity, respectively, was significantly modified by prematurity. In full-term-born adults, the higher FA in the right posterior thalamic radiation the higher vSTM capacity; in preterm-born adults this FA-vSTM-relationship was inversed. In the splenium, higher FA was correlated with higher vSTM capacity in preterm-born adults, whereas no significant relationship was evident in full-term-born adults. These results indicate distinct associations between cortico-thalamic and cortico-cortical integrity and vSTM capacity in preterm-and full-term-born adults. Data suggest compensatory cortico-cortical fiber re-organization for attention deficits after preterm delivery.

Keywords: Compensation; Diffusion tensor imaging; Posterior thalamic radiation; Preterm birth; Theory of Visual Attention; Visual short-term memory capacity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Corpus Callosum / pathology*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / etiology
  • Memory Disorders / pathology*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / pathology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth / pathology*
  • Thalamus / pathology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology