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Preterm Birth Alters the Regional Development and Structural Covariance of Cerebellum at Term-Equivalent Age.

Cerebellum 2024 April 7
Preterm birth is associated with increased risk for a spectrum of neurodevelopmental disabilities. The cerebellum is implicated in a wide range of cognitive functions extending beyond sensorimotor control and plays an increasingly recognized role in brain development. Morphometric studies based on volume analyses have revealed impaired cerebellar development in preterm infants. However, the structural covariance between the cerebellum and cerebral cortex has not been studied during the neonatal period, and the extent to which structural covariance is affected by preterm birth remains unknown. In this study, using the structural MR images of 52 preterm infants scanned at term-equivalent age and 312 full-term controls from the Developing Human Connectome Project, we compared volumetric growth, local cerebellum shape development and cerebello-cerebral structural covariance between the two groups. We found that although there was no significant difference in the overall volume measurements between preterm and full-term infants, the shape measurements were different. Compared with the control infants, preterm infants had significantly larger thickness in the vermis and lower thickness in the lateral portions of the bilateral cerebral hemispheres. The structural covariance between the cerebellum and frontal and parietal lobes was significantly greater in preterm infants than in full-term controls. The findings in this study suggested that cerebellar development and cerebello-cerebral structural covariance may be affected by premature birth.

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