New Insights into Preemie Infant Brain Injury

Neurological damage once considered harmless may not be, study suggests

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MONDAY, Oct. 3, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A part of the brain called the cerebellum -- previously believed to be principally involved in motor coordination -- also plays an important role in the development of behavior and cognition, new research reveals.

Experts at Children's Hospital Boston used MRI to study the brains of 47 premature babies. Cerebellar injury is increasingly recognized as a potentially serious complication of premature birth.

Reporting in the October issue of Pediatrics, they found that cerebellar injury can have a major impact on development, and that the cerebellum and another part of the brain, the cerebrum, are tightly interconnected. It's long been believed that the cerebrum is the primary location of higher cognitive functions such as language and visual processing.

The Boston team found that when the cerebrum was injured, the cerebellum failed to grow to a normal size. And when the cerebellar injury was limited to one side, the opposite cerebral hemisphere did not grow to normal size.

"There seems to be an important developmental link between the cerebrum and the cerebellum. We're finding that the two structures modulate each other's growth and development. The way the brain forms connections between structures may be as important as the injury itself," study author and neurologist Catherine Limperopoulos said in a prepared statement.

"Until recently, cerebellar injury was underrecognized. Doctors downplayed it, saying 'Oh, maybe Johnny will be a little clumsy,'" she said. "Our research has made us aware that cerebellar injury is not a benign finding. We now know to look for it, and can counsel families that their children are likely to have deficits that extend beyond motor, and that may benefit from early intervention."

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about developmental disabilities.

SOURCE: Children's Hospital Boston, news release, Oct. 3, 2005

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