Adolescents and adults who were born very prematurely may have “older” brains than those who were born full term, a new study reveals.
Researchers identified changes in the brain structure of adults born between 28 and 32 weeks gestation that corresponded with accelerated brain aging, meaning that their brains appeared older than those of their non-preterm counterparts.
Lead study author Dr. Chiara Nosarti, of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London in the United Kingdom, and colleagues recently reported their findings in the journal Neuroimage.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1 in 10 infants born in the United States in 2015 were preterm, meaning that they were born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
A baby’s brain fully develops in the final few weeks of gestation, so being born early disrupts this process. As such, babies born preterm are at greater risk of developmental disabilities including impairments in learning, language, and behavior.
But how does preterm birth affect the brain in adulthood? This is what Dr. Nosarti and colleagues sought to find out with their new study.
Scientists once thought that brain maturation ceases in adolescence. But in recent years, studies have indicated that this may not be the case, and that the brain may not fully mature until we reach our mid-20s.
According to Dr. Nosarti and team, their study is the first to investigate how preterm birth might affect this adult brain maturation process.
Using MRI, the researchers analyzed the brain structure of 328 adults who had been born before 33 weeks gestation. Subjects were assessed at two time points: adolescence (mean age 19.8 years) and adulthood (mean age 30.6 years).
The brain scans of these participants were then compared with those of 232 adults who were born full term (the controls), alongside 1,210 brain scans gathered from open-access MRI archives.
Specifically, the researchers looked at volume of gray matter in the participants’ brains, which they say can be a marker of “brain age.”
Compared with the controls, the team found that subjects born very preterm had a lower volume of gray matter in both adolescence and adulthood, particularly in brain regions associated with memory and emotional processing.
Copyright © © 2016 Five Star Nursing. All Rights Reserved.