JUN 14, 2017 06:22 AM PDT

Brain Wiring in Preemies Is Affected Before Birth

Pregnancy is a time of great joy, anticipation, a little morning sickness and even some stress. Most pregnancies, however, go very well and a happy healthy baby is the result. In cases where a child is born prematurely, there can be several complications, from development, infections and birth defects. A study from researchers at Yale University School of Medicine, along with colleagues at the National Institutes of Health and Wayne State University, shows that some issues in the brain are occurring even before the babies are born. In the developing brain of a baby in utero, alterations in the circuitry of the brain are present before birth. The research is the first of its kind to look at delays and brain function of premature babies before they are born.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Approximately 10-11% of babies born in the United States are born prematurely. A premature birth, or preterm birth is defined as a live birth that occurs before 37 weeks of gestation. A baby born before 28 weeks is considered “extremely preterm” and those born from 28-32 weeks are “very preterm.” Research in the new study from Yale suggests that some of the same factors that can cause a baby to be born early are also responsible for factors that impact he brain development in the womb. Preterm babies have an increased risk for several neurological complications like ADHD, cerebral palsy and autism.

Using fetal resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) the team looked at brain connectivity in 32 fetuses. Initially the mothers who volunteered for the study were low risk pregnancies and it was not known if preterm birth would be a factor. Of the 32 scans, 14 women went on to give birth between 24-35 weeks of gestation. The scans were focused on neural connectivity and localized in the left hemisphere of the brain. At the systems level in the brain, were language is processed, connectivity was weaker in the babies who were later born prematurely. Co-author, Dr. Dustin Scheinost from Yale, explained, “It was striking to see brain differences associated with preterm birth many weeks before the infants were prematurely-born. Preterm infants are known to have brain changes in language regions, and we were particularly surprised that the fetal differences we detected were in these same language regions.”

Yale Professor of Pediatrics and co-author Dr. Laura Ment, MD, emphasized the need for more research since the study suggests these issues in language are happening before the preterm labor and birth. She added, “Impaired connectivity in language regions in infants born long before their due dates needs further study, but is important for future research into both the causes and outcomes of preterm birth.”

Going forward, the team will look at possible causes of preterm birth that are also associated with neurological deficits to see if they can secure a more firm connection between these deficits and prematurity. Those issues will include infection and inflammation as well as other conditions that influence in utero development. The team plans to follow the children in this study to keep track of long-term outcomes. Check out the video below to learn more.

Sources: Yale University, UPI, World Health Organization, Scientific Reports 

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
AUG 29, 2018
Videos
AUG 29, 2018
Understanding the Social Brain
In neuroscience, one of the main areas of the brain that is discussed and researched is the “social brain” but what is that, specifically? It&r...
SEP 10, 2018
Neuroscience
SEP 10, 2018
Can Scientists Mimic The Effect of Exercise to Improve Memory?
Dementia is a growing problem for healthcare providers, patients, and families. The WHO estimates that globally more than 47 million people are living with...
SEP 20, 2018
Neuroscience
SEP 20, 2018
Macaques Explain The Neuroscience of Envy
Believe it or not, there are neurological underpinnings that determine how we perceive our environment and often our perception of others. A publication in...
OCT 16, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
OCT 16, 2018
Lab-grown Neurons Help Uncover the Genetic Changes Underlying Mental Illness
Developing therapeutics that will effectively relieve mental illness means understanding what is causing those disorders in the first place....
OCT 21, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
OCT 21, 2018
The Nervous System Directly Controls Stem Cell Growth
Our body relies on adult stem cells throughout our lives; we need them to continuously generate new cells as they wear out, like on the skin and in our blood....
NOV 14, 2018
Immunology
NOV 14, 2018
Stress in Youth Can Mean Depression as an Adult
A research team investigates early life stress and its relation to adult depression and anxiety...
Loading Comments...