Estrogen could promote healthy development of preterm infants
Premature birth alters the balance of interneurons in the cerebral cortex that can be restored with estrogen treatment, according to a study of human brain tissue and preterm rabbits published in JNeurosci.
Infants born prior to a full-term pregnancy are at increased risk of neurobehavioral disorders linked to defects in interneurons, which continue to develop through the end of the third trimester. Prematurity is also associated with a large reduction in levels of the hormone estrogen.
Studying the development of interneurons from brain samples of deceased, premature-born human infants, Praveen Ballabh and colleagues identified abnormalities in the distribution of interneuron subtypes. The researchers further show that exposure to estrogen corrected these imbalances in prematurely delivered rabbits. This study suggests that mimicking the in utero environment, where the fetus would usually be exposed to maternal hormones, has the potential to improve developmental outcomes for preterm infants.