A team of scientists has discovered one of the reasons that premature babies are more likely to develop neurological problems. The team found that these brain development problems start before birth, when the baby is still in the womb. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Past research has showed a connection between premature births and developmental problems. Babies born preterm are more likely to have neurological problems and developmental delays later in life. Since over 10% of babies are born prematurely, it’s critical that researchers begin to explore the lifetime effects of premature births.
Scientists from the Yale School of Medicine collaborated with researchers from Wayne State University and the National Institutes of Health to investigate the brain development of premature babies. They focused on brain development before birth since some scientists have theorized that the problems begin when the fetus is still in the womb. Thanks to equipment at Yale’s Magnetic Resonance Research Center, the team was able to use a technique called fetal resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging. This made it easier to study the anatomy of the developing fetal brains. They studied 32 fetuses total and 14 were later born prematurely, allowing the scientists to compare the two groups and check for abnormalities.
The research team found that neural connectivity, especially in the left hemisphere, was altered in the fetuses that were later born prematurely. Specifically, the connections were weak in the pre-language region, which may explain some of the developmental and language issues that occur later in life when infants are born too early.
The team’s findings show that premature babies have developmental problems that begin before birth. Their brains have abnormal neural connections, especially in areas associated with language. The team is now investigating the factors that lead to this type of development as well as the causes of premature births.
Thomason et al. Weak functional connectivity in the human fetal brain prior to preterm birth. Scientific Reports (2017).