Premature Babies At Elevated Risk for Psychiatric Disorders

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Premature babies are at a higher risk of developing psychiatric and neurological disorders due to weakened connections in brain networks related to attention, communication, and emotion.

Cynthia Rogers, MD, of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., and colleagues conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor brain imaging on 76 infants born at least 10 weeks early and 58 babies born at full term.

Brain networks involved in attention, communication and emotion were found to be weaker in premature infants, which explains why children born prematurely may have an elevated risk of psychiatric disorders, the researchers reported today at Neuroscience 2015, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, in Chicago.

White matter in the brain are made of axons that connect brain regions to form networks. The researchers also found differences in preemies’ resting-state brain networks. The greatest differences between full-term and preterm babies were seen in one of these networks, the default mode network, and in the frontoparietal network. Both have been linked to emotion and have been implicated in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorders.

“We're analyzing the data we've already gathered, but we want to bring the children back when they are 9 or 10 and continue to follow their development,” Rogers said in a statement. “We want to look at the evolution of brain development in full-term versus preterm babies, and we want to know how that may affect who is impaired and who is not.”

Premature Babies At Elevated Risk for Psychiatric Disorders
Brain networks involved in attention, communication and emotion were found to be weaker in premature infants.

Babies born prematurely face an increased risk of neurological and psychiatric problems that may be due to weakened connections in brain networks linked to attention, communication and the processing of emotions, new research shows.

Studying brain scans from premature and full-term babies, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis zeroed in on differences in the brain that may underlie such problems.

The findings are being presented today at Neuroscience 2015, the annual scientific meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, in Chicago.

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