Premature babies are at higher risk of disorders, which include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder, the findings showed.

"For the first time, we have demonstrated the feasibility of using measurements of these abnormalities in the brain of preterm newborns as potential indicators of risk for future cognitive and behavioural problems," said Natasha Lepore from the Children's Hospital Los Angeles in the US.

Using three-dimensional, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Lepore and colleagues analyzed the structure and neural circuitry of two specific areas of the brain in 17 preterm and 19 term-born babies: the thalamus - the brain's relay station, critical to sending and receiving sensory information - and the putamen, involved in a number of different processes, most notably regulation of movement and learning.

"The ability to identify structural signs of neuro-developmental disease shortly after birth in premature infants could allow for early interventions, increasing the child's social and learning behaviours as they age," Lepore concluded.

The study was published in the journal Brain Structure and Function.



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