Measurement of the way that the brain grows after birth in preterm infants, particularly the relation between brain surface area and cortical volume, may help to predict neurodevelopmental impairment.
David Edwards and colleagues from Imperial College London used Magnetic Resonance Imaging to measure brain growth from 23 to 48 wk of gestation in 113 extremely premature infants born between 22 and 29 weeks of gestation. 63 of these children were then assessed to see how they were developing mentally at around 2 years of age. The researchers found that the brain surface area grew faster than the brain volume but that the slower the rate of growth of surface area relative to volume the more likely there was to be delayed development. The more premature babies, and those that were male, were most likely to have a slower growth of the brain surface compared with the brain volume.
These findings suggest that the normal pattern of brain growth during development, by which the surface area grows more than the volume, is disrupted in babies that are born prematurely and the amount of disruption of the growth may predict whether there is delayed development 2 years later. The earlier the birth, the greater the disruption is; in addition, boys are affected more than girls.
If these results are confirmed in more babies then it may be possible to monitor brain growth after birth in order to predict which children might need development support later on. The research also suggests possible avenues for further work to understand the exact neuroanatomy of impairment in these children.