White matter injury (WMI), one of the most common consequences of premature birth, can produce long-term neurodevelopmental deficits. A study by researchers at Children’s National Hospital provides direct evidence that targeting specific receptors in white matter cells after brain injury promotes cellular and functional recovery.
In the United States, about 500,000 babies are born prematurely each year, with about 2% of them born at less than 32 weeks gestation. Up to 90% of these children survive, but they often suffer a number of abnormalities, including underdeveloped lungs. Underdeveloped lungs can lead to insufficient oxygen supply or hypoxia, which in turn contributes to WMI. No treatment currently exists to improve function in these infants once injury occurs.
During normal fetal and postnatal development, oligodendrocytes (myelin-producing cells in white matter) arise from oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs). In premature infants, hypoxia prevents OPCs from maturing properly, and the cells begin to die. Without sufficient myelin, the brain cannot process nerve impulses effectively, leading to significant delays in the development of sensorimotor skills and cognition.
The Neonatal Neurology and Neurocritical Care Program at Children’s National is the only one of its kind in the mid-Atlantic region and a leader in advancing neurologic care to some of our most critically ill newborns.
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