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George JM, Colditz PB, Chatfield MD, Fiori S, Pannek K, Fripp J, Guzzetta A, Rose SE, Ware RS, Boyd RN. Early clinical and MRI biomarkers of cognitive and motor outcomes in very preterm born infants. Pediatr Res. 2021 Feb 24. doi: 10.1038/s41390-021-01399-5. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33627820.

Background: This study aimed to identify which MRI and clinical assessments, alone or in combination, from (i) early (32 weeks postmenstrual age, PMA), (ii) term equivalent age (TEA) and (iii) 3 months corrected age (CA) are associated with motor or cognitive outcomes at 2 years CA in infants born <31 weeks gestation.

Methods: Prospective cohort study of 98 infants who underwent early and TEA MRI (n = 59 males; median birth gestational age 28 + 5 weeks). Hammersmith Neonatal Neurological Examination (HNNE), NICU Neonatal Neurobehavioural Scale and General Movements Assessment (GMs) were performed early and at TEA. Premie-Neuro was performed early and GMs, Test of Infant Motor Performance and visual assessment were performed at TEA and 3 months CA. Neurodevelopmental outcomes were determined using Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development 3rd edition.

Results: The best combined motor outcome model included 3-month GMs (β = -11.41; 95% CI = -17.34, -5.49), TEA MRI deep grey matter score (β = -6.23; 95% CI = -9.47, -2.99) and early HNNE reflexes (β = 3.51; 95% CI = 0.86, 6.16). Combined cognitive model included 3-month GMs (β = -10.01; 95% CI = -15.90, -4.12) and TEA HNNE score (β = 1.33; 95% CI = 0.57, 2.08).

Conclusion: Early neonatal neurological assessment improves associations with motor outcomes when combined with term MRI and 3-month GMs. Term neurological assessment combined with 3-month GMs improves associations with cognitive outcomes.

Impact: We present associations between 32- and 40-week MRI, comprehensive clinical assessments and later 2-year motor and cognitive outcomes for children born <31 weeks gestation. MRI and clinical assessment of motor, neurological and neurobehavioural function earlier than term equivalent age in very preterm infants is safe and becoming more available in clinical settings. Most of these children are discharged from hospital before term age and so completing assessments prior to discharge can assist with follow up. MRI and neurological assessment prior to term equivalent age while the child is still in hospital can provide earlier identification of children at highest risk of adverse outcomes and guide follow-up screening and intervention services.

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