The Vulnerable Brain and Very Preterm Infants – Findings from the PIPARI-Study

Preterm birth is a risk for normal brain development. Brain maturation that normally happens in the uterus is in very preterm infants a developmental challenge during their stay in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Typical brain injuries of preterm infants include ischemic injuries, brain haemorrhages, ventricular dilatation (VD), and reduced brain volumes. Brain injury is a serious complication of prematurity leading to possible long term consequences for the neurodevelopment of the very low birth weight (VLBW) infant, such as cerebral palsy (CP), hearing impairments, vision problems, and delay in cognitive development. There is a need for further studies to ascertain the potential risk factors and their causal relationships to brain vulnerability, growth and development in the increasing number of surviving VLBW infants.


This thesis consists of four studies evaluating the definitions, causes and consequences of brain lesions in VLBW (<1500g) or very low gestational age (VLGA) (gestational age <32 gestational weeks) infants.


We showed that the redistribution of fetal blood flow is a risk factor for smaller brain volumes at term. In addition, we showed that brain lesions related to prematurity are not associated with increased spontaneous crying behaviour or circadian rhythm development in infancy. However, the preterm infants began to fuss more often and were held more than term infants at five months of age. Furthermore, we showed that VD is associated with brain lesions and smaller brain volumes. Therefore, brain magnetic resonance imaging can be recommended for infants with VD. VD together with other brain pathology is a risk factor for the onset of developmental impairments in VLBW/VLGA infants at two years of age.