Background: Mortality and brain injury are common adverse outcomes in infants born <28 weeks. Conventional pulse oximetry may not detect subclinical changes prior to deterioration and fails to detect changes within the brain. Increasing evidence supports the use of cerebral near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) in the early care of preterm infants, yet the impact of specific interventions on cerebral oxygenation and the relationship between cerebral hypoxia and brain injury on MRI remain to be determined. Methods/design: 100 infants <28 completed weeks of gestation will be recruited for a prospective, multicenter intervention trial. After informed consent, infants will undergo cerebral NIRS monitoring starting within 6 h of birth and continuing through 72 h. Infants with persistent cerebral desaturation will receive interventions following a standard treatment algorithm selected by the provider based on the patient's clinical condition. Providers will record the timing and choice of intervention(s) and term equivalent brain MRI will be performed for survivors. There are three objectives of this study: 1) to identify the relationship between cerebral hypoxia burden and brain injury on term-equivalent MRI. 2) to identify most common interventions after cerebral hypoxia, and 3) to quantify frequency of occult cerebral hypoxia events. Discussion: There is increasing evidence for the role of early cerebral NIRS monitoring in the neuroprotective care of preterm infants. This phase-II trial will provide essential data to improve the intervention approach, model the effect size of interventions on a wider extent of brain injury, and quantify the discrepancy between measurements of systemic and cerebral hypoxia.