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Mental Health - Neurological Disorders - Neuroscience - Pediatrics and Child Health - Radiology and Medical Imaging

White Matter and Cognition in Adults Who Were Born Preterm
Published: Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Author: Matthew P. G. Allin et al.

by Matthew P. G. Allin, Dimitris Kontis, Muriel Walshe, John Wyatt, Gareth J. Barker, Richard A. A. Kanaan, Philip McGuire, Larry Rifkin, Robin M. Murray, Chiara Nosarti

Background and Purpose

Individuals born very preterm (before 33 weeks of gestation, VPT) are at risk of damage to developing white matter, which may affect later cognition and behaviour.


We used diffusion tensor MRI (DT-MRI) to assess white matter microstructure (fractional anisotropy; FA) in 80 VPT and 41 term-born individuals (mean age 19.1 years, range 17–22, and 18.5 years, range17–22 years, respectively). VPT individuals were part of a 1982–1984 birth cohort which had been followed up since birth; term individuals were recruited by local press advertisement. General intellectual function, executive function and memory were assessed.


The VPT group had reduced FA in four clusters, and increased FA in four clusters relative to the Term group, involving several association tracts of both hemispheres. Clusters of increased FA were associated with more severe neonatal brain injury in the VPT group. Clusters of reduced FA were associated with lower birth weight and perinatal hypoxia, and with reduced adult cognitive performance in the VPT group only.


Alterations of white matter microstructure persist into adulthood in VPT individuals and are associated with cognitive function.