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Relating anthropometric indicators to brain structure in 2-month-old Bangladeshi infants growing up in poverty: a pilot study

By Ted Turesky, Wanze Xie, Swapna Kumar, Danielle D. Sliva, Borjan Gagoski, Jennifer Vaughn, Lilla Zöllei, Rashidul Haque, Shahria Hafiz Kakon, Nazrul Islam, William Petri, Charles A Nelson, Nadine Gaab

Posted 31 May 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/655068 (published DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.116540)

Anthropometric indicators, including stunting, underweight, and wasting, have previously been associated with poor neurocognitive outcomes. This link may exist because malnutrition and infection, which are known to affect height and weight, also impact brain structure according to animal models. However, a relationship between anthropometric indicators and brain structural measures has not been tested yet, perhaps because stunting, underweight, and wasting are uncommon in higher-resource settings. Further, with diminished anthropomorphic growth prevalent in low-resource settings, where biological and psychosocial hazards are most severe, one might expect additional links between measures of poverty, anthropometry, and brain structure. To begin to examine these relationships, we conducted an MRI study in 2-3-month-old infants growing up in the extremely impoverished urban setting of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The sample size was relatively small because the challenges of investigating infant brain structure in a low-resource setting needed to be realized and resolved before introducing a larger cohort. Initially, fifty-four infants underwent T1 sequences using 3T MRI, and structural images were segmented into gray and white matter maps, which were carefully evaluated for accurate tissue labeling by a pediatric neuroradiologist. Gray and white matter volumes from 29 infants (79 +/- 10 days-of-age; F/M = 12/17), whose segmentations were of relatively high quality, were submitted to semi-partial correlation analyses with stunting, underweight, and wasting, which were measured using height-for-age (HAZ), weight-for-age (WAZ), and weight-for-height (WHZ) scores. Positive semi-partial correlations (after adjusting for chronological age and sex and correcting for multiple comparisons) were observed between white matter volume and HAZ and WAZ; however, WHZ was not correlated with any measure of brain volume. In examining the role of poverty, no associations were observed between income-to-needs or maternal education and brain volumetric measures, suggesting that risk factors previously linked with poverty were not associated with total brain tissue volume pre- or peri-natally in this sample. Overall, these results provide the first link between diminished anthropomorphic growth and white matter volume in infancy. Challenges of conducting a developmental neuroimaging study in a low-resource country are described.

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