CHICAGO Premature birth appears to trigger developmental processes in the white matter of the brain that could put children at higher risk of problems later in life, according to a study being presented next week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).
Preterm infantsgenerally those born 23 to 36 weeks after conception, as opposed to the normal 37- to 42-week gestationface an increased risk of behavioral problems, ranging from impulsiveness and distractibility to more serious conditions like autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
"In the United States, we have approximately 500,000 preterm births a year," said Stefan Blml, Ph.D., director of the New Imaging Technology Lab at Children's Hospital Los Angeles and associate professor of research radiology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. "About 60,000 of these babies are at high risk for significant long-term problems, which means that this is a significant problem with enormous costs."
Dr. Blml and colleagues have been studying preterm infants to learn more about how premature birth might cause changes in brain structure that may be associated with clinical problems observed later in life. Much of the focus has been on the brain's white matter, which transmits signals and enables communication between different parts of the brain. While some white matter damage is readily apparent on structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Dr. Blml's group has been using magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to look at differences on a microscopic level.
In this study, the researchers compared the concentrations of certain chemicals associated with mature white matter and gray matter in 51 full-term and 30 preterm infants. The study group had normal structural MRI findings, but MRS results showed significant differences in the biochemical maturation of white matter between the term and preterm infants, suggest
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Radiological Society of North America