Babies born prematurely are more likely to develop autism, a new study has shown.
The research published recently in the American Journal of Perinatology and Science is among the first to investigate brain activities in human foetuses and suggests that the core nerve issues begin during the child’s formation in the womb.
It found differences in the brains of babies born before 27 weeks’ gestation who were later diagnosed with the disorder, commonly known as autism.
The study shows that when a child is born prematurely, the brain functions are altered.
The study explained that the brain grows best in the womb, and premature birth can disrupt the organisation of cerebral networks.
The author of the study, Developmental neuroscientist Moriah Thomason of Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan, reports a difference in how certain brain regions communicate with each other in foetuses that were later born prematurely compared with foetuses that were carried to term.
“Previous studies have reported altered connectivity in the brains of premature infants, but only after birth, leaving open the possibility that stress, oxygen deprivation, or another injury during delivery is to blame.
But Dr Thomason and her team not only found that the impairment starts earlier; they also found a hint of a cause.
She adds: “The mothers who delivered prematurely had more inflammation in their placental tissue, which leads us to suspect that maternal infection or inflammation might play a role.
“Apart from developing autism, the children are more likely to develop attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and more likely to struggle in school” states the paper.