St. Louis, April 10, 2007 A study of how the brain of a premature infant responds to injury has found vulnerabilities similar to those in the mature brain but also identified at least one significant difference, according to neuroscientists and neonatologists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
In an animal model of brain injury, researchers showed for the first time that parts of the developing brain are vulnerable to damage from glutamate, a nervous system messenger compound. Glutamate is already well-known for its links to injury in the mature brain. But scientists also found damage in the developing brain that could not be linked to glutamate, suggesting that different treatments are needed to prevent brain injury in premature infants.
More than two percent of babies are born before the completion of their eighth month of gestation, and up to half of these infants suffer brain injury. Unlike adults, premature infants receive the most damage in the white matter, the portions of the brain that connect different brain regions.
"These injuries can lead to behavioral problems, developmental delay, cognitive impairment or cerebral palsy," says senior author Mark P. Goldberg, M.D., professor of neurology and of neurobiology. "In this study, we've identified a unique vulnerability in the developing brain's white matter that likely contributes to those disabilities. We will be looking for new drug treatments to prevent injury."
The research, reported in the April 11 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, was conducted at the Hope Center for Neurological Disorders, a partnership between the University and Hope Happens, a St. Louis-based nonprofit organization dedicated to raising funds for neurological research. Goldberg is director of the center.
Goldberg and lead author William J. McCarran, M.D., a neonatology fellow in the Department of Pediatrics, worked with a "slice-based" model of injur
Contact: Michael C. Purdy
Washington University School of Medicine