Altered orbitofrontal activation in preterm-born young adolescents during performance of a reality filtering task

Neuroimage Clin. 2021:30:102668. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2021.102668. Epub 2021 Apr 21.


Preterm birth is one of the main causes for neurodevelopmental problems, and has been associated with a wide range of impairments in cognitive functions including executive functions and memory. One of the factors contributing to these adverse outcomes is the intrinsic vulnerability of the premature brain. Neuroimaging studies have highlighted structural and functional alterations in several brain regions in preterm individuals across lifetime. The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is crucial for a multitude of complex and adaptive behaviours, and its structure is particularly affected by premature birth. Nevertheless, studies on the functional impact of prematurity on the OFC are still missing. Orbitofrontal Reality filtering (ORFi) refers to the ability to distinguish if a thought is relevant to present reality or not. It can be tested using a continuous recognition task and is mediated by the OFC in adults and typically developing young adolescents. Therefore, the ORFi task was used to investigate whether OFC functioning is affected by prematurity. We compared the neural correlates of ORFi in 35 young adolescents born preterm (below 32 weeks of gestation) and aged 10 to 14 years with 25 full term-born controls. Our findings indicate that OFC activation was required only in the full-term group, whereas preterm young adolescents did not involve OFC in processing the ORFi task, despite being able to correctly perform it.

Keywords: Orbitofrontal Cortex; Preterm; Reality filtering; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain
  • Executive Function
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth*
  • Recognition, Psychology