Objectives: To test the hypothesis that higher blood levels of neurotrophic proteins (proteins that support neuronal survival and function) in the first 2 weeks of life are associated with a lower risk of cognitive impairment at 10 years.
Study design: We evaluated 812 10-year-old children with neonatal blood specimens enrolled in the multicenter prospective Extremely Low Gestational Age Newborn Study, assessing 22 blood proteins collected on 3 days over the first 2 weeks of life. Using latent profile analysis, we derived a cognitive function level based on standardized cognitive and executive function tests. We defined high exposure as the top quartile neurotrophic protein blood level on ≥2 days either for ≥4 proteins or for a specific cluster of neurotrophic proteins (defined by latent class analysis). Multinomial logistic regression analyzed associations between high exposures and cognitive impairment.
Results: Controlling for the effects of inflammatory proteins, persistently elevated blood levels of ≥4 neurotrophic proteins were associated with reduced risk of moderate (OR, 0.35; 95% CI, 0.18-0.67) and severe cognitive impairment (OR, 0.22; 95% CI, 0.09-0.53). Children with a cluster of elevated proteins including angiopoietin 1, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and regulated upon activation, normal T-cell expressed, and secreted had a reduced risk of adverse cognitive outcomes (OR range, 0.31-0.6). The risk for moderate to severe cognitive impairment was least with 0-1 inflammatory and >4 neurotrophic proteins.
Conclusions: Persisting elevations of circulating neurotrophic proteins during the first 2 weeks of life are associated with lowered risk of impaired cognition at 10 years of age, controlling for increases in inflammatory proteins.
Keywords: early life risks and protectors of later cognition; extreme prematurity; inflammation and neurotrophins.
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