Lack of oxygen, not blood flow, delays preemies' brain maturation

ANI | Updated: Nov 03, 2017 04:54 IST

Washington D.C. [USA], Nov 3 (ANI): A recent study has found that cognitive and learning disabilities in premature infants, once believed to be the result of lack of blood flow to the brain, is actually caused by low oxygen.

Principal investigator Stephen Back said that this research challenges more than a decade of scientific study and clinical understanding of brain development in preterm children.

"Previously, we thought lack of blood flow was causing preterm brain cells to die. Instead, these critically important cells simply fail to develop normally. This finding creates an opportunity to determine ways to restore oxygen loss and potentially reduce life-long impacts of preterm survivors," he noted.

Utilizing a preterm sheep model, Back and his team analyzed the response of fetal subplate neurons - cells that play a critical role in regulating preterm brain function and connectivity - to disturbances of brain oxygenation.

When the developing brain was exposed to lower than normal rates of oxygen for as short as 25 minutes, subplate neurons showed major long-term disturbances just one month following exposure.

Back noted that this result better explains the long-term complications that these preterm babies sustain as they grow older, which include significant challenges with learning, memory and attention.

Although additional research is needed to determine the exact developmental timeframes for potential injury due to oxygen loss in infants, as well as the optimal concentration of oxygen necessary for early intervention therapies, Back believes these findings suggest a need to re-evaluate current practices in intensive care settings.

The study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience. (ANI)