(Mirror Daily, United States) – Being born prematurely can cause an elevated risk of psychiatric and neurological problems, such as trouble processing emotions, difficulties in communication and attention.

Studying and comparing brain scans of premature and full-term babies, Washington University School of Medicine researchers discovered the difference lies in weakened brain connections for those coming into this world prematurely.

According to leading researcher Cynthia Rogers, MD, assistant professor of child psychiatry, early intervention might have a particular effect on the way the brain’s “plasticity” develops early in life. But interventions usually begin only after the first symptoms develop, a practice she’s trying to change.

What they’re trying to do is come up with objective measures of brain development so physicians can tell if a child is prone to develop problems later in life; that way, health outcomes can be improved by offering the baby extra support and therapy early on.

Dr. Rogers’ discoveries were presented at the annual scientific conference called Neuroscience. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, one in every 9 infants in the United States is born early, which causes an increased risk of problems with motor skills, cognitive difficulties, autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

In collaboration with​​ leading author Christopher D. Smyser, MD, assistant professor of pediatric neurology and a team at the Washington University Neonatal Development Research Lab, Dr. Rogers got a better picture of the effects of premature birth with the help of functional magnetic resonance imaging.

For the study, 58 babies born at full-term were compared with 76 infants born up to 10 weeks early. Full-term babies received a brain scan on their second or third day of life, while the premature babies were scanned within a couple of days of their normal due date.

Researchers noticed that some vital brain networks – those dealing with communication, attention and emotion – were much weaker in preterm infants, explaining why these babies could have an increased risk of psychiatric disorders.

These differences in the brain circuit are likely to become more serious problems as the children grow up. In order to test this theory, Rogers’ team is still following the babies with evaluations at age 2 and age 5. There is a plan to have another set of brain scans as the study participants reach the ages of 9 or 10.

Following their development is key to have a complete evolution of brain development in full-term versus preterm babies, as it would offer tremendous insight into the abnormalities in the brains of preterm babies and, help them change the course of their development.
Image Source: Mama’s Health