Does a bigger brain make for a smarter child in babies born prematurely?

October 12, 2011

New research suggests the growth rate of the brain's cerebral cortex in babies born prematurely may predict how well they are able to think, speak, plan and pay attention later in childhood. The research is published in the October 12, 2011, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The cerebral cortex is the outer layer of the brain covering the cerebrum, and is responsible for cognitive functions, such as language, memory, attention and thought.

"In babies born preterm, the more the cerebral cortex grows early in life the better children perform complex tasks when they reach six years old," said study author A. David Edwards, DSc, of Imperial College in London. "The period before a full-term birth is critical for . Problems occurring at this time have long-term consequences, and it appears that preterm birth affects brain growth."

The study looked at rates of 82 infants who were born before 30 weeks gestational age using MRI scans of their brain between 24-44 weeks. were collected repeatedly from immediately after the babies were born until their full-term due date. Their cognitive abilities were tested at two years old and again at six years old.

The study found that the faster the rate of cerebral cortex growth in infancy, the higher their scores were on the developmental and intelligence tests as children. A five to 10 percent reduction in the surface area of the cerebral cortex at full-term age predicted approximately one standard deviation lower score on the intelligence tests in later childhood. Motor skills were not correlated with the rate of growth, and the overall was not related to general cognitive ability.

"These findings show we should focus on the growth of specific regions of the brain like the cortex when trying to understand or diagnose potential problems in babies and fetuses," said Edwards.

Explore further: Premature birth may increase risk of epilepsy later in life

Related Stories

Premature birth may increase risk of epilepsy later in life

October 3, 2011

Being born prematurely may increase your risk of developing epilepsy as an adult, according to a new study published in the October 4, 2011, issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Recommended for you

Neuro chip records brain cell activity

October 26, 2016

Brain functions are controlled by millions of brain cells. However, in order to understand how the brain controls functions, such as simple reflexes or learning and memory, we must be able to record the activity of large ...

Can a brain-computer interface convert your thoughts to text?

October 25, 2016

Ever wonder what it would be like if a device could decode your thoughts into actual speech or written words? While this might enhance the capabilities of already existing speech interfaces with devices, it could be a potential ...

The current state of psychobiotics

October 25, 2016

Now that we know that gut bacteria can speak to the brain—in ways that affect our mood, our appetite, and even our circadian rhythms—the next challenge for scientists is to control this communication. The science of psychobiotics, ...

After blindness, the adult brain can learn to see again

October 25, 2016

More than 40 million people worldwide are blind, and many of them reach this condition after many years of slow and progressive retinal degeneration. The development of sophisticated prostheses or new light-responsive elements, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.