Thursday, October 13, 2011
New research suggests that the growth rate of the brain's cerebral cortex in babies born prematurely may predict how well they are able to think, speak, plan and pay attention later in childhood
The cerebral cortex is the outer layer of the brain covering the cerebrum, and is responsible for cognitive functions, such as language, memory, attention and thought. "In babies born preterm, the more the cerebral cortex grows early in life the better children perform complex tasks when they reach six years old," said study author A. David Edwards, DSc, of Imperial College in London. "The period before a full-term birth is critical for brain development. Problems occurring at this time have long-term consequences, and it appears that preterm birth affects brain growth." The study found that the faster the rate of cerebral cortex growth in infancy, the higher their scores were on the developmental and intelligence tests as children. A 5% - 10% reduction in the surface area of the cerebral cortex at full-term age predicted approximately one standard deviation lower score on the intelligence tests in later childhood.