Their findings, published in the October edition of Pediatrics, could eventually lead to diagnostic tests for infants and mothers that could help prevent brain injury.
"The most critical issue in preventing and treating brain injury in infants is figuring out where the damage begins and what triggers it," said Dr. Jeffrey Perlman, professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study. "Our study opens a new pathway of understanding, but we still don't have all the answers."
The study reveals the link between brain injury that occurs during the perinatal period - immediately before and after birth - and an infection in the mother's placenta, called chorioamnionitis, which causes fever, inflammation, and abnormally high heart rates in the unborn child.
"Our study revealed the cause of brain injury in infants is not as simplistic as initial studies indicated," said Perlman, also professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and anesthesiology and pain management. "These findings bring us a small step closer to understanding how the brain is injured and could eventually lead to new strategies for controlling infection and, more importantly, for preventing brain injury."
Earlier studies have pointed to lack of oxygen as the primary cause for neonatal brain injuries, including cerebral palsy. Brain injury during the perinatal period is one of the most common causes of severe, long-term neurologic deficit in infants and children. Each year, one in 1,000 babies is born with brain injury in the United States - about 4,000 annually.
The UT Southwestern researchers studied 61 full-term infants who were admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit at Parkland Memorial Hospital over a two-year period
Contact: Barbara Bedrick
UT Southwestern Medical Center