Third Trimester Cerebellar Metabolite Concentrations are Decreased in Very Premature Infants with Structural Brain Injury

Sci Rep. 2019 Feb 4;9(1):1212. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-37203-4.


Advanced neuroimaging techniques have improved our understanding of microstructural changes in the preterm supratentorial brain as well as the cerebellum and its association with impaired neurodevelopmental outcomes. However, the metabolic interrogation of the developing cerebellum during the early postnatal period after preterm birth remains largely unknown. Our study investigates the relationship between cerebellar neurometabolites measured by proton magnetic spectroscopy (1H-MRS) in preterm infants with advancing post-menstrual age (PMA) and brain injury during ex-utero third trimester prior to term equivalent age (TEA). We prospectively enrolled and acquired high quality 1H-MRS at median 33.0 (IQR 31.6-35.2) weeks PMA from a voxel placed in the cerebellum of 53 premature infants born at a median gestational age of 27.0 (IQR 25.0-29.0) weeks. 1H-MRS data were processed using LCModel software to calculate absolute metabolite concentrations of N-acetylaspartate (NAA), choline (Cho) and creatine (Cr). We noted positive correlations of cerebellar concentrations of NAA, Cho and Cr (Spearman correlations of 0.59, 0.64 and 0.52, respectively, p value < 0.0001) and negative correlation of Cho/Cr ratio (R -0.5, p value 0.0002) with advancing PMA. Moderate-to-severe cerebellar injury was noted on conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in 14 (26.4%) of the infants and were noted to have lower cerebellar NAA, Cho and Cr concentrations compared with those without injury (p value < 0.001). Several clinical complications of prematurity including necrotizing enterocolitis, systemic infections and bronchopulmonary dysplasia were associated with altered metabolite concentrations in the developing cerebellum. We report for the first time that ex-utero third trimester cerebellar metabolite concentrations are decreased in very preterm infants with moderate-to-severe structural cerebellar injury. We report increasing temporal trends of metabolite concentrations in the cerebellum with advancing PMA, which was impaired in infants with brain injury on MRI and may have early diagnostic and prognostic value in predicting neurodevelopmental outcomes in very preterm infants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aspartic Acid / analogs & derivatives
  • Aspartic Acid / analysis
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain Injuries / metabolism*
  • Brain Injuries / pathology
  • Cerebellum / metabolism*
  • Choline / analysis
  • Creatine / analysis
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Gray Matter / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Extremely Premature / metabolism*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / metabolism
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / metabolism
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third / metabolism
  • Premature Birth / metabolism
  • Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods


  • Aspartic Acid
  • N-acetylaspartate
  • Creatine
  • Choline