Introduction The long-term effects of preterm birth have been investigated for both ethical and medical reasons. We aimed to find the long-term effects of preterm birth on the brain using voxel-based morphometry on magnetic resonance imaging data.
Methods Using a 1.5T GE scanner we examined 143 individuals (69 controls) at the average age of 14.6 y. The protocol included a high resolution, 3D, T1-weighted image with voxel size 0.98×0.98×1.5 mm3. The images were segmented into grey/white matter and cerebro-spinal fluid. The grey matter segments were put through a voxel based morphometry processing pipeline. From the grey/white matter segments we also calculated the total brain volume.
Results Our results indicate a reduced gray matter volume bilaterally in the temporal and parietal lobes as well as the basal ganglia and hippocampus (see figure). We found no voxel-wise correlation with gestational age or birthweight within the group of adolescents born preterm. Neither was there a correlation between total gray matter volume and gestational age or birth weight within the ex-preterm group of adolescents.
Conclusions We found a regionally specific negative effect of preterm birth on brain development. The lack of relation between GA or BW and grey matter development is particularly interesting and surprising and it may be due to the minimally invasive practice in the neonatal wards at this institution. Future work will involve investigations into the effects of preterm birth on the white matter based on diffusion tensor imaging data.