Preterm infants are at high risk for brain injury during the perinatal period. Intraventricular hemorrhage and periventricular leukomalacia, the two most common patterns of brain injury in prematurely-born children, are associated with poor neurodevelopmental outcomes. The hippocampus is known to be critical for learning and memory; however, it remains unknown how these forms of brain injury affect hippocampal growth and how the resulting alterations in hippocampal development relate to childhood outcomes. To investigate these relationships, hippocampal segmentations were performed on term equivalent MRI scans from 55 full-term infants, 85 very preterm infants (born ≤32 weeks gestation) with no to mild brain injury and 73 very preterm infants with brain injury (e.g., grade III/IV intraventricular hemorrhage, post-hemorrhagic hydrocephalus, cystic periventricular leukomalacia). Infants then underwent standardized neurodevelopmental testing using the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, 3rd edition at age 2 years, corrected for prematurity. To delineate the effects of brain injury on early hippocampal development, hippocampal volumes were compared across groups and associations between neonatal volumes and neurodevelopmental outcomes at age 2 years were explored. Very preterm infants with brain injury had smaller hippocampal volumes at term equivalent age compared to term and very preterm infants with no to mild injury, with the smallest hippocampi among those with grade III/IV intraventricular hemorrhage and post-hemorrhagic hydrocephalus. Further, larger ventricle size was associated with smaller hippocampal size. Smaller hippocampal volumes were related to worse motor performance at age 2 years across all groups. In addition, smaller hippocampal volumes in infants with brain injury were correlated with impaired cognitive scores at age 2 years, a relationship specific to this group. Consistent with our preclinical findings, these findings demonstrate that perinatal brain injury is associated with hippocampal size in preterm infants, with smaller volumes related to domain-specific neurodevelopmental impairments in this high-risk clinical population.
Keywords: Hippocampus; Magnetic resonance imaging; Neurodevelopment; Very preterm infant; White matter injury.
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