SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • prematurity;
  • gestational age;
  • development

Abstract

Neuromaturation is the functional development of the central nervous system (CNS). It is by its very nature a dynamic process, a continuous interaction between the genome and first the intrauterine environment, then the extrauterine environment. Understanding neuromaturation and being able to measure it is fundamental to infant neurodevelopmental assessment. Fetal and preterm neuromaturation has become easier to observe with the advent of prenatal ultrasonography and neonatal intensive care units. A number of measures of degree of fetal maturation have been developed and used to estimate gestational age (GA) at birth. The most reliable measures of GA are prenatal measures, especially from the first trimester. Postnatal GA measurements tend to be least accurate at the extremes of gestation, that is, in extremely preterm and post-term infants. Observations of measures of neuromaturation in infants born to mothers with pregnancy complications, including intrauterine growth restriction, multiple gestation, and chronic hypertension, have led to the discovery that stressed pregnancies may accelerate fetal pulmonary and CNS maturation. This acceleration of neuromaturation does not occur before 30 weeks' gestation and has a cost with respect to cognitive limitations manifested in childhood. The ability to measure fetal and preterm neuromaturation provides an assessment of neurodevelopmental progress that can be used to reassure parents or identify at risk infants who would benefit from limited comprehensive follow-up and early intervention services. In addition, measures of neuromaturation have the potential to provide insight into mechanisms of CNS injury and recovery, much-needed early feedback in intervention or treatment trials and a measure of early CNS function for research into the relationships between CNS structure and function. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc. MRDD Research Reviews 2005;11:21–33.