Aim: To understand the relationship between cognition and white-matter structure in adolescents born preterm without obvious brain injury. Methods: Thirty-two adolescents from a longitudinal study of child development were selected according to risk of developmental disorders at birth (born at term: eight males, five females; median age 16y 1mo, interquartile range 10mo; low risk preterm: four males, five females, median age 16y, range 4mo; high risk preterm: three males, seven females, median age 16y 2mo, range 1y 2mo) and reading ability (good: three males, eight females, median age 16y, range 7mo; average: six males, three females, median age 16y 10mo, range 1y; poor: six males, six females, median age 16y, range 6mo). Preterm birth was defined as a gestational age of 36 weeks or less and a birthweight of 1600g or less. All participants had normal clinical neuroimaging findings. We examined fractional anisotropy, radial diffusivity, and volume of three major white-matter fasciculi. The relationship between structural measures and birth risk, hemisphere, and cognitive ability (attention, lexical and sublexical decoding, auditory phonological awareness, and processing speed) were analysed using mixed-model regression. Results: Left-hemisphere superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF) fractional anisotropy and radial diffusivity were linked to reading-related skills (fractional anisotropy vs letter-word identification, r(30)=-0.37, p<0.05; fractional anisotropy vs phoneme reversal, r(30)=-0.34, p=0.05; radial diffusivity vs letter-word identification, r(30)=0.31, p<0.10; radial diffusivity vs phoneme reversal, r(30)=0.40, p<0.05), whereas right-hemisphere SLF fractional anisotropy was related to attention skills (fractional anisotropy vs inattentiveness, r(30)=-0.38, p<0.05). SLF volume decreased as these skills declined for adolescents born preterm (volume vs phoneme reversal, r(17)=0.58, p<0.01; volume vs inattentiveness, r(17)=-0.69, p<0.01), but not for those born at term. Interpretation: The relationship between cognitive skills and SLF volume suggests that in adolescents born preterm, cryptic white-matter injury may exist, possibly related to oligodendrocyte or axonal loss, despite normal clinical neuroimaging.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
- Developmental Neuroscience
- Clinical Neurology