Background Children and adolescents born very preterm (VPT) are at increased risk for altered brain development  and impaired cognitive performance . Decreased regional brain volume in VPT infants has been associated with later working memory deficits . This study aims to identify associations between regional brain volume and working memory performance in VPT children.
Design/methods Thirty-three VPT children between 10 and 16 and 34 term-born peers were examined. Three-dimensional T1- and T2-weighted MR images were acquired on a 3T GE scanner. Regional brain volumes were calculated using FreeSurfer 5.3.0. Working memory was assessed using the spatial working memory (SWM) task of the Cantab test battery.
Results Neither regional brain volume nor spatial working memory performance differed significantly between VPT and TB children (p > 0.05). There was, however, a significant associations between regional brain volumes and performance in VPT children: After controlling for ICV, the number of errors in the SWM task correlated negatively with the volume of the cerebellar white matter on the right (r = -0.359, p = 0.043), the cerebellar white matter on the left (trend level; r = - 0.315, p = 0.079), the thalamus on the right (trend level; r = -0.331, p = 0.065) and the thalamus on the left side (r = -0.437, p = 0.012). In term born peers, no correlation was found.
Conclusion Working memory performance is specifically linked to thalamic and cerebellar volumes in VPT but not in term-born children. This implies a specific anatomical correlate of working memory in adolescents at risk for altered brain development.
De Kieviet et al., 2012, for a review
Mulder et al., 2009, for a review
Beauchamp et al., 2008