How well does neonatal neuroimaging correlate with neurodevelopmental outcomes in infants with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy?

Pediatr Res. 2023 Sep;94(3):1018-1025. doi: 10.1038/s41390-023-02510-8. Epub 2023 Mar 1.


Background: In newborns with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), the correlation between neonatal neuroimaging and the degree of neurodevelopmental impairment (NDI) is unclear.

Methods: Infants with HIE enrolled in a randomized controlled trial underwent neonatal MRI/MR spectroscopy (MRS) using a harmonized protocol at 4-6 days of age. The severity of brain injury was measured with a validated scoring system. Using proportional odds regression, we calculated adjusted odds ratios (aOR) for the associations between MRI/MRS measures of injury and primary ordinal outcome (i.e., normal, mild NDI, moderate NDI, severe NDI, or death) at age 2 years.

Results: Of 451 infants with MRI/MRS at a median age of 5 days (IQR 4.5-5.8), outcomes were normal (51%); mild (12%), moderate (14%), severe NDI (13%); or death (9%). MRI injury score (aOR 1.06, 95% CI 1.05, 1.07), severe brain injury (aOR 39.6, 95% CI 16.4, 95.6), and MRS lactate/n-acetylaspartate (NAA) ratio (aOR 1.6, 95% CI 1.4,1.8) were associated with worse primary outcomes. Infants with mild/moderate MRI brain injury had similar BSID-III cognitive, language, and motor scores as infants with no injury.

Conclusion: In the absence of severe injury, brain MRI/MRS does not accurately discriminate the degree of NDI. Given diagnostic uncertainty, families need to be counseled regarding a range of possible neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Impact: Half of all infants with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) enrolled in a large clinical trial either died or had neurodevelopmental impairment at age 2 years despite receiving therapeutic hypothermia. Severe brain injury and a global pattern of brain injury on MRI were both strongly associated with death or neurodevelopmental impairment. Infants with mild or moderate brain injury had similar mean BSID-III cognitive, language, and motor scores as infants with no brain injury on MRI. Given the prognostic uncertainty of brain MRI among infants with less severe degrees of brain injury, families should be counseled regarding a range of possible neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Brain Injuries* / complications
  • Brain Injuries* / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Injuries* / therapy
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia, Induced* / methods
  • Hypoxia-Ischemia, Brain* / complications
  • Hypoxia-Ischemia, Brain* / diagnostic imaging
  • Hypoxia-Ischemia, Brain* / therapy
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Neuroimaging