OBJECTIVE. The goal was to use diffusion tensor imaging to test the hypothesis that prematurely born children demonstrate long-term, white matter, microstructural differences, relative to term control subjects.

METHODS. Twenty-nine preterm subjects (birth weight: 600–1250 g) without neonatal brain injury and 22 matched, term, control subjects were evaluated at 12 years of age with MRI studies, including diffusion tensor imaging and volumetric imaging; voxel-based morphometric strategies were used to corroborate regional diffusion tensor imaging results. Subjects also underwent neurodevelopmental assessments.

RESULTS. Neurodevelopmental assessments showed significant differences in full-scale, verbal, and performance IQ and Developmental Test of Visual Motor Integration scores between the preterm and term control subjects. Diffusion tensor imaging studies demonstrated widespread decreases in fractional anisotropy (a measure of fiber tract organization) in the preterm children, compared with the control subjects. Regions included both intrahemispheric association fibers subserving language skills, namely, the right inferior frontooccipital fasciculus and anterior portions of the uncinate fasciculi bilaterally, and the deep white matter regions to which they project, as well as the splenium of the corpus callosum. These changes in fractional anisotropy occurred in subjects with significant differences in frontal, temporal, parietal, and deep white matter volumes. Fractional anisotropy values in the left anterior uncinate correlated with verbal IQ, full-scale IQ, and Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised scores for preterm male subjects. In addition, preterm male subjects were found to have the lowest values for fractional anisotropy in the right anterior uncinate fasciculus, and fractional anisotropy values in that region correlated with both verbal IQ and Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised scores for the preterm groups; these findings were supported by changes identified with voxel-based morphometric analyses.

CONCLUSIONS. Compared with term control subjects, prematurely born children with no neonatal ultrasound evidence of white matter injury manifest changes in neural connectivity at 12 years of age.

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