Brain size in premature infants significantly smaller than full-term babies

New Haven, Conn. Brain scans of children born prematurely show key areas of the brain are much smaller than those of children born at full-term, a study by Yale researchers has found.

The researchers conducted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans on 25 eight-year-olds born prematurely and compared them to brain scans of 39 children of comparable age, sex and maternal education.

The study published in the October 18 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association is believed to be the first time brain volume has been measured in children born prematurely. It is also the first study to relate those abnormalities to cognitive outcome and perinatal risk factors.

"The differences in brain volume on average were dramatic in all regions, with reductions ranging from 11 percent to 35 percent," said Bradley Peterson, M.D., the House Jameson Associate Professor in Child Psychiatry at the Yale Child Study Center, associate professor in diagnostic radiology, and lead author of the study. "Not all children born prematurely showed these abnormalities, but those born at a younger gestational age were most affected. The magnitudes of the abnormalities in fact were directly proportional to how early the children were born, and they were strongly associated with IQ of the children at age eight years." The shortest gestation period for the children was 26 weeks.

The children born prematurely were followed since birth as a component of an ongoing study by Laura Ment, M.D., professor of pediatrics and neurology and senior investigator on the study.

"Premature birth at less than 1000 grams birth weight (approximately two pounds), is a major cause of developmental disability," Ment said. "Infants in this birth weight range represent almost one percent of all births in our country, and the survival rate for these infants is well over 80 percent. But the incidence of handicap is high."

"By age eight years, over 50 percent are i

Contact: Jacqueline Weaver
Yale University

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