Cortical responses to tactile stimuli in preterm infants

Susanna Leikos, Anton Tokariev, Ninah Koolen, Päivi Nevalainen, Sampsa Vanhatalo
European Journal of Neuroscience 2019 November 2
The conventional assessment of preterm somatosensory functions using averaged cortical responses to electrical stimulation ignores the characteristic components of preterm somatosensory evoked responses (SERs). Our study aimed to systematically evaluate the occurrence and development of SERs after tactile stimulus in preterm infants. We analysed SERs performed during 45 electroencephalograms (EEGs) from 29 infants at the mean post-menstrual age of 30.7 weeks. Altogether 2,087 SERs were identified visually at single trial level from unfiltered signals capturing also their slowest components. We observed salient SERs with a high amplitude slow component at a high success rate after hand (95%) and foot (83%) stimuli. There was a clear developmental change in both the slow wave and the higher frequency components of the SERs. Infants with intraventricular haemorrhage (IVH; eleven infants) had initially normal SERs, but those with bilateral IVH later showed a developmental decrease in the ipsilateral SER occurrence after 30 weeks of post-menstrual age. Our study shows that tactile stimulus applied at bedside elicits salient SERs with a large slow component and an overriding fast oscillation, which are specific to the preterm period. Prior experimental research indicates that such SERs allow studying both subplate and cortical functions. Our present findings further suggest that they might offer a window to the emergence of neurodevelopmental sequalae after major structural brain lesions and, hence, an additional tool for both research and clinical neurophysiological evaluation of infants before term age.

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