Show/hide main menu

News

News Highlights

Premature birth alters brain connections

Posted on 04/05/2015
Brain image 2

Premature birth can alter the connectivity between key areas of the brain, according to a new study led by King’s College London. The findings should help researchers to better understand why premature birth is linked to a greater risk of neurodevelopmental problems, including autistic spectrum disorders and attention deficit disorders.  

The NIHR-funded study, published in the journal PNAS, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at specific connections in the brains of 66 infants, 47 of whom were born before 33 weeks and were therefore at high risk of neurological impairment, and 19 born at term. The brain connections investigated were between the thalamus and the cortex, connections which develop rapidly during the period a preterm infant is cared for on a neonatal unit. 

Researchers found that those born in the normal window of birth (37-42 weeks) showed a remarkably similar structure to adults in these brain regions, strengthening existing evidence that the brain’s network of connections is quite mature at the time of birth.

However, infants born prematurely (before 33 weeks gestation) were found to have less connectivity between areas of the thalamus and particular areas of the brain’s cortex known to support higher cognitive functions, but greater connectivity between the thalamus and an area of primary sensory cortex which is involved in processing signals from the face, lips, jaw, tongue, and throat. 

The greater the extent of prematurity, the more marked were the differences in the pattern of brain connectivity.

The authors suggest that the stronger connections involving face and lips in babies born preterm may reflect their early exposure to breastfeeding and bottlefeeding, while the reduced connectivity in other brain regions may be linked to the higher incidence of difficulties seen in later childhood.

Dr Hilary Toulmin, first author from the Centre for the Developing Brain at King’s College London, said: ‘The next stage of our work will be to understand how these findings relate to the learning, concentration and social difficulties which many of these children experience as they grow older.’

Professor David Edwards, senior author from the Centre for the Developing Brain at King’s College London, said: ‘The ability of modern science to image the connections in the brain would have been inconceivable just a few years ago, but we are now able to observe brain development in babies as they grow, and this is likely to produce remarkable benefits for medicine.’

Notes to editors

For more information, please contact the King’s College London press office on tel: +44 (0)20 7848 3202, email pr@kcl.ac.uk.

‘Specialization and integration of functional thalamocortical connectivity in the human infant’ by Toulmin et al is published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA) on Monday 4 May 2015.

This paper summaries independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) under its Programme Grants for Applied Research Programme (Grant Reference Number RP-PG-0707-10154) and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Strategic Grant ‘Pre-term Brain Injury’.

About King’s College London 

King's College London is one of the top 20 universities in the world (2014/15 QS World University Rankings) and among the oldest in England. King's has more than 26,500 students (of whom nearly 10,400 are graduate students) from some 150 countries worldwide, and nearly 6,900 staff. The university is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.

For more information, please visit King’s in Brief.

About NIHR

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (www.nihr.ac.uk).

Rss Feed Atom Feed

News Highlights:

News Highlights...RSS FeedAtom Feed

Top directors come to King's for Chinese Visual Festival

Top directors come to King's for Chinese Visual Festival

Description
SOME of the most exciting directors in Chinese language cinema will be showcased at the Chinese Visual Festival (CVF) hosted at King's College London again this year. The events are free to King's staff and students.
Costs of dental care put strain on households

Costs of dental care put strain on households

Description
Having to pay for dental health care can put a considerable strain on household finances in many countries, according to an international study led by King's College London.
ICSR discuss young extremists at UN Security Council

ICSR discuss young extremists at UN Security Council

Description
BETTER de-radicalisation programmes are needed to stop young people joining violent extremism, Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King's, Professor Peter Neumann has told the United Nations Security Council.Addressing the special hearing on countering violent youth extremism at the UN in New York, Professor Neumann said the reasons driving thousands of young men and women to join the conflicts in Syria and Iraq are complex and diverse.

Share this story:

add

Follow Us

@kingscollegelon

Live Twitter feed...

@kingscollegelon
Join the conversation
Sitemap Site help Terms and conditions Privacy policy Accessibility Recruitment News Centre Contact us

© 2016 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454