OBJECTIVE: To investigate whether preterm children with low risk for neurodevelopmental deficits show long-term changes in gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM) volumes compared with term children and to relate these changes to cognitive outcome.

METHODS: MRI was used to evaluate 20 preterm children who were determined to be at low risk for neurodevelopmental deficits and were born between 30 and 34 weeks’ gestational age without major neonatal morbidity or cerebral pathology in the neonatal period and 22 matched, term control subjects. Volumetric images were analyzed by means of voxel-based morphometry to identify regional cerebral alterations. Children also underwent cognitive and behavioral/emotional assessments.

RESULTS: Preterm children showed global and regional GM volume reductions in several brain areas, including temporal and parietal lobes and concomitant WM volume reductions in the same areas, although only the left temporal regions achieved statistical significance. Global intellectual performance in the preterm group was significantly decreased compared with control subjects. Neither behavioral nor emotional problems were found in the preterm group. In the whole sample, we found a positive correlation between GM volume bilaterally in the middle temporal and in the postcentral gyri with IQ. Positive correlations were observed between GM and gestational age at birth in parietal and temporal cerebral regions and with WM in parietal regions.

CONCLUSION: Preterm birth has an important impact on the neurodevelopmental and cognitive outcome of children at 9 years of age, being a risk factor for decreased regional cortical GM and WM even in preterm children with low risk for neurodevelopmental deficits.

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