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Teens Born Preterm Have Less White Matter, Lower IQ

Last Updated: April 08, 2011.

Reduced brain white matter among adolescents who were born preterm is linked with negative effects on their cognition, behavior, and academic success, according to a study published online March 9 in the Annals of Neurology.

FRIDAY, April 8 (HealthDay News) -- Reduced brain white matter (WM) among adolescents who were born preterm is linked with negative effects on their cognition, behavior, and academic success, according to a study published online March 9 in the Annals of Neurology.

Gemma B. Northam, of University College London Institute of Child Health, and colleagues investigated the link between WM reduction and intellectual outcome among adolescents who were born preterm (<32 weeks). Seventy-nine participants, at a mean age of 16 years, were assessed: 49 who were born preterm with a wide spectrum of brain injuries (including 22 who had no identifiable brain injury at birth) and 30 term-born controls. The researchers evaluated brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, full-scale IQ scores, educational achievements, and behavioral scores. WM volume, cross-sectional area of the corpus callosum, and ventricular dilatation were measured.

The researchers found that WM volume and IQ were reduced in all preterm adolescents, both with and without brain injury. Reduced WM also correlated with poorer real-world academic outcomes and behavioral difficulties. Total WM volume and cross-sectional corpus callosum area explained 70 percent of the IQ variance in the adolescents born preterm. This association was independent of the presence or severity of brain abnormalities at birth or on follow-up MRI.

"Preterm birth has a long-term effect on cognition, behavior, and future academic success primarily as a consequence of global brain WM reduction. This emphasizes the need for early therapeutic efforts to prevent WM injury and promote or optimize its development in preterm neonates," the authors write.

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