New research funded by the National Institute for Health Research and the Medical Research Council has found a region in a preterm baby’s brain that is pivotal to spontaneous neuronal bursts and strong brain connectivity.
A new study by researchers from UCL and King’s College London has located a specific area in a preterm baby’s brain that is largely responsible for the generation of spontaneous neuronal bursts.
These spontaneous, high-amplitude bursts of activity that occur in the brains of premature babies are critical for healthy brain development and researchers say that the area, called the insula, is essential to strengthening brain connections that will allow the baby to scaffold for further life experiences. Previous research has found that babies who don’t have as much insular activity displayed in their brains are more likely to have poorer cognitive skills later in life, or even to develop cerebral palsy.
Lead author, Dr. Lorenzo Fabrizi, with UCL Biosciences, says that they don’t necessarily know what causes the neuronal bursts, but they do know that they are present in preterm babies and gone when babies are full term. He also said that if they are missing in premature babies or still recognized in a full term baby, it can be bad. Dr. Fabrizi said that the premature baby brain is unique in its preparation for being born into the external world.
The researchers studied ten healthy, premature babies using electroencephalograms (EEGs) to look for the insula signal and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRIS) to see the location of the burst. They found the bursts came from the insula, which is located in the developing cortex, and confirmed previous research and thought that the insula matures in an important phase of development in the latter part of pregnancy.
Because the insula is the main source of bursting events that are pivotal for brain maturation, the research team said more investigation in both humans and animals should be done to see how brain development preterm can lead to disability later in life after birth. The researchers are hopeful their work can be used to understand brain function before birth.