Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
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Background: The last trimester of pregnancy is a critical period for the establishment of cortical gyrification, and altered folding patterns have been reported following very preterm birth (< 33 weeks of gestation) in childhood and adolescence. However, research is scant on the persistence of such alterations in adulthood and their associations with cognitive and psychiatric outcomes. Methods: We studied 79 very preterm and 81 age-matched full-term control adults. T1-weighted magnetic resonance images were used to measure a local gyrification index (LGI), indicating the degree of folding across multiple vertices of the reconstructed cortical surface. Group and group-by-sex LGI differences were assessed by means of per-vertex adjustment for cortical thickness and overall intracranial volume. Within-group correlations were also computed between LGI and functional outcomes, including general intelligence (IQ) and psychopathology. Results: Very preterm adults had significantly reduced LGI in extensive cortical regions encompassing the frontal, anterior temporal, and occipitoparietal lobes. Alterations in lateral fronto-temporal-parietal and medial occipitoparietal regions were present in both men and women, although men showed more extensive alterations. In both very preterm and control adults, higher LGI was associated with higher IQ and lower psychopathology scores, with the spatial distribution of these associations substantially differing between the two groups. Conclusions: Very preterm adults’ brains are characterized by significant and widespread local hypogyria, and these alterations might be implicated in cognitive and psychiatric outcomes. Gyrification reflects an early developmental process and provides a fingerprint for very preterm birth.