Magnetoencephalographic (MEG) investigation of cortical processing in children born very preterm

Children born very preterm (less than 32 weeks from conception), commonly have difficulties with learning and attention that frequently lead to problems in their academic performance. Very little is known, however, about how the brain activity of very preterm children differs from that of children born at full term. Currently, it is known that children born very preterm experience considerable pain-related stress during lengthy hospitalization following birth. This stress is associated with higher levels of cortisol production, the primary stress hormone in humans, during infancy and toddlerhood. It is possible that these high cortisol levels may contribute to changes in brain development. Dr. Sam Doesburg is characterizing alterations in brain function and structure in a group of very preterm children, now aged 7.5 years. His research is part of a larger, ongoing longitudinal study investigating the effects of pain-related stress experienced during neonatal intensive care on neurodevelopment in very preterm children. Using a technique called magnetoencephalography (MEG), Dr. Doesburg will examine the brain activity of the children while they perform a visual memory task, and use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to map brain activity onto brain structure to investigate connections between different brain regions. This research will provide new knowledge about brain function and structure in very preterm children, and how stress experienced very early in life is related to brain development. Determining specific information about brain activity in these children during mental activity could also help to devise better treatment strategies to help overcome the learning and attention difficulties this vulnerable group of children experience.