Postnatal brain development of healthy prematurely born infants was assessed to study possible influence of premature birth and early extrauterine environment on structural, biochemical, and functional brain development. Myelination and differentiation of gray and white matter were studied by in vivo magnetic resonance (MR) imaging (MRI), changes in cerebral metabolism by 1HMR spectroscopy (MRS), and changes in early human neurobehavior by the assessment of preterm infant's behavior (APIB). The stage of intrauterine and extrauterine brain development in prematurely born infants at term was compared with the stage of mainly intrauterine brain development in a group of full-term infants. Eighteen preterm infants unremarkable with respect to neurologic and medical status were studied at approximately 2 wk of postnatal age [gestational age (GA) 1: 32.5 +/- 1.2 wk] and again at term (GA 2: 40.0 +/- 1.1 wk). For comparison a group of 13 full-term born infants (GA T: 40.6 +/- 2.1 wk) were studied by MR and six by APIB. When GA 2 to GA 1 was compared, significant maturational changes were found with MRI in gray and white matter and myelination, with 1H MRS in the concentration of N-acetylaspartate and with all scores of APIB. In preterm infants at term (GA 2) compared with full-term infants (GA T) significantly less gray and white matter differentiation and myelination was observed as well as significantly poorer performance in four neurobehavioral parameters (autonomic reactivity, motoric reactivity, state organization, attentional availability). We conclude that MRI and 1H MRS can be used to study postnatal brain development in preterm infants. Structural and biochemical maturation is accompanied by functional maturation as shown with the neurobehavior assessment. Preterm infants at term compared with full-term infants show a structural as well as a functional delay in brain development assessed at 40 wk of postconceptional age.