Background Attentional functions are thought to rely strongly on frontal and parietal cortex. Studies have shown that preterm birth may lead to an altered pattern of cortical development, but few studies have investigated specific links between developmental changes in the brain and executive skills.
Objective To investigate the performance of very preterm (VPT) children on a selective attention task in relation to lobar gray matter development.
Methods Children aged 9–10 years were assessed with the sky search selective attention task from the test of everyday attention for children. Brain images were acquired using 1.5 T Philips magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and were segmented automatically using the Montreal Neurological Institute protocol.
Results 46 VPT children (gestational age <31 weeks) and 22 full-term controls were evaluated for selective attention as part of an executive function battery. VPT children scored lower than term on the selective attention task (mean score 6.9 (SD 2.9) versus 8.4 (SD 2.1); p = 0.013). MRI scans were available for 23 VPT children. After Bonferroni correction, gray matter volumes of left (Spearman’s rho 0.587; p = 0.003) and right (rho 0.547; p = 0.007) temporal lobe and right occipital lobe (rho 0.584; p = 0.003) correlated significantly with performance on the selective attention task. No significant correlations were found for the other five lobes.
Conclusions Decreased performance on a selective attention task among very preterm children is particularly related to the growth of both temporal and right occipital lobes; in contrast the anticipated correlation with frontal or parietal lobar volumes was absent. Preterm children may adopt different strategies to term children to complete this task.