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The Effect Of Perinatal Brain Injury On Dopaminergic Function And Hippocampal Volume In Adult Life

By Sean Froudist-Walsh, Michael AP Bloomfield, Mattia Veronese, Jasmin Kroll, Vyacheslav Karolis, Sameer Jauhar, Ilaria Bonoldi, Philip K McGuire, Shitij Kapur, Robin M Murray, Chiara Nosarti, Oliver D Howes

Posted 19 Apr 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/128710 (published DOI: 10.7554/eLife.29088)

Background: Very preterm birth (<32 weeks of gestation) is associated with long-lasting brain alterations and an increased risk of psychiatric disorders associated with dopaminergic abnormalities. Preclinical studies have shown perinatal brain injuries, including hippocampal lesions, cause lasting changes in dopamine function, but it is not known if this occurs in humans. The purpose of this study was to determine whether very preterm birth and perinatal brain injury were associated with altered dopamine synthesis and reduced hippocampal volume in humans in adulthood. Methods: We compared adults who were born very preterm with associated perinatal brain injury to adults born very preterm without perinatal brain injury, and age-matched controls born at full term using [18F]-DOPA PET and structural MRI imaging. Results: Dopamine synthesis capacity was significantly reduced in the perinatal brain injury group relative to both the group born very preterm without brain injury (Cohen's d=1.36, p=0.02) and the control group (Cohen's d=1.07, p=0.01). Hippocampal volume was reduced in the perinatal brain injury group relative to controls (Cohen's d = 1.17, p = 0.01). There was a significant correlation between hippocampal volume and striatal dopamine synthesis capacity (r = 0.344, p= 0.03). Conclusions: Perinatal brain injury, but not very preterm birth without macroscopic brain injury, is associated with persistent alterations in dopaminergic function and reductions in hippocampal volume. This is the first evidence in humans linking neonatal hippocampal injury to adult dopamine dysfunction, and has implications for understanding the mechanism underlying cognitive impairments and neuropsychiatric disorders following very preterm birth.

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