Large numbers of premature-born children may be slipping under the radar, say researchers who have found brain development problems in teenagers deemed clinically normal after a late preterm birth.
Julia Pitcher and Michael Ridding, of the Robinson Research Institute, University of Adelaide, found that children born even one to five weeks premature showed reduced ‘neuroplasticity’ as teenagers. Their study provides the first physiological evidence of the link between late preterm birth and reduced motor, learning and social skills in later life.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to create new neural pathways and alter existing ones to learn new information, and this brain network connectivity is fundamental to learning and memory.
The study of 28 teenagers aged 13-14 years old looked at early preterm (before 33 weeks), late preterm (33-37 weeks) and term-born children (38-41 weeks). However, Julia and Michael were particularly interested in the late preterm results.
“Using a brain stimulation technique, we found that even being born mildly preterm really blunted the brain’s ability to change the strength of its connections,” says Julia.
Photo: Children born even one to five weeks premature can show reduced skills later in life.