Premature babies undergoing hundreds of life-saving procedures exhibit abnormal development of the thalamus and cognitive and motor impairments in the first years of life, according to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience of infants born as early as 24 weeks of gestation.
Steven Miller and colleagues studied 155 newborns from the neonatal intensive care unit at BC Women’s Hospital in Canada, collecting neuroimaging data shortly after birth and again at the age they were expected to have been born. Researchers observed the most severe abnormalities of the thalamus, which transmits sensory information to the cortex, in the extremely preterm newborns (born less than 28 weeks of gestation).
These changes were related to exposure to painful stimuli in the first half of the neonatal period as well as cognitive and motor ability assessed at three years of age.
Minimizing painful procedures in extremely preterm born babies may therefore provide an opportunity to promote brain health and improve outcomes in this vulnerable population.
Study shows improved survival among premature babies, risk of developmental delay remains high
Early procedural pain is associated with regionally-specific alterations in thalamic development in preterm neonates, Journal of Neuroscience (2017). DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0867-17.2017