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Teenagers Born Prematurely May Have Brain Development Problems

Update Date: Nov 14, 2012 06:17 AM EST

According to a recent research, scientists have found that teenagers who are born prematurely may have problems with brain development which could affect their learning and remembering capabilities.

Along with the various other health problems a premature baby faces, researchers from the University of Adelaide's Robinson Institute have found one more problem a prematurely born baby could face. According to a study recently conducted by them, it was found that teenagers who are born prematurely may have problems with brain development, which could affect their memory and learning capabilities.

Dr. Julia Pitcher and Dr. Michael Ridding from the University of Adelaide's Robinson Institute found that the brains of teenagers who were born premature babies had reduced "plasticity".

"Plasticity in the brain is vital for learning and memory throughout life," Dr. Pitcher says. "It enables the brain to reorganize itself, responding to changes in environment, behavior and stimuli by modifying the number and strength of connections between neurons and different brain areas. Plasticity is also important for recovery from brain damage."

"We know from past research that preterm-born children often experience motor, cognitive and learning difficulties. The growth of the brain is rapid between 20 and 37 weeks gestation, and being born even mildly preterm appears to subtly but significantly alter brain microstructure, neural connectivity and neurochemistry."

"However, the mechanisms that link this altered brain physiology with behavioral outcomes -- such as memory and learning problems -- have remained unknown," she says.

The study included the comparison of prematurely born teenagers to teenagers who were born at the right time and also to adults who were not premature babies. This was done in order to understand the chemical and hormonal differences between the groups.

"Teenagers born preterm clearly showed reduced neuroplasticity in response to brain stimulation," Dr. Pitcher says. "Surprisingly, even very modest preterm birth was associated with a reduced brain response. On the other hand, term-born teenagers were highly 'plastic' compared with adults and the preterm teens."

"Preterm teens also had low levels of cortisol in their saliva, which was highly predictive of this reduced brain responsiveness. People often associate increased cortisol with stress, but cortisol fluctuates up and down normally over each 24-hour period and this plays a critical role in learning, the consolidation of new knowledge into memory and the later retrieval of those memories. This might be important for the development of a possible therapy to overcome the neuroplasticity problem," she says.

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