Longitudinal neonatal brain development and socio-demographic correlates of infant outcomes following preterm birth

Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2023 Jun:61:101250. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2023.101250. Epub 2023 Apr 26.


Preterm birth results in premature exposure of the brain to the extrauterine environment during a critical period of neurodevelopment. Consequently, infants born preterm are at a heightened risk of adverse behavioural outcomes in later life. We characterise longitudinal development of neonatal regional brain volume and functional connectivity in the first weeks following preterm birth, sociodemographic factors, and their respective relationships to psychomotor outcomes and psychopathology in toddlerhood. We study 121 infants born preterm who underwent magnetic resonance imaging shortly after birth, at term-equivalent age, or both. Longitudinal regional brain volume and functional connectivity were modelled as a function of psychopathology and psychomotor outcomes at 18 months. Better psychomotor functioning in toddlerhood was associated with greater relative right cerebellar volume and a more rapid decrease over time of sensorimotor degree centrality in the neonatal period. In contrast, increased 18-month psychopathology was associated with a more rapid decrease in relative regional subcortical volume. Furthermore, while socio-economic deprivation was related to both psychopathology and psychomotor outcomes, cognitively stimulating parenting predicted psychopathology only. Our study highlights the importance of longitudinal imaging to better predict toddler outcomes following preterm birth, as well as disparate environmental influences on separable facets of behavioural development in this population.

Keywords: Degree centrality; Longitudinal imaging; Preterm birth; Psychomotor functioning; Psychopathology; Regional volume.

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Premature Birth* / pathology