Background: Despite advances in antenatal and neonatal care, preterm birth remains a leading cause of neurological disabilities in children. Infants born prematurely, particularly those delivered at the earliest gestational ages, commonly demonstrate increased rates of impairment across multiple neurodevelopmental domains. Indeed, the current literature establishes that preterm birth is a leading risk factor for cerebral palsy, is associated with executive function deficits, increases risk for impaired receptive and expressive language skills, and is linked with higher rates of co-occurring attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorders. These same infants also demonstrate elevated rates of aberrant cerebral structural and functional connectivity, with persistent changes evident across advanced magnetic resonance imaging modalities as early as the neonatal period. Emerging findings from cross-sectional and longitudinal investigations increasingly suggest that aberrant connectivity within key functional networks and white matter tracts may underlie the neurodevelopmental impairments common in this population. Main body: This review begins by highlighting the elevated rates of neurodevelopmental disorders across domains in this clinical population, describes the patterns of aberrant structural and functional connectivity common in prematurely-born infants and children, and then reviews the increasingly established body of literature delineating the relationship between these brain abnormalities and adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes. We also detail important, typically understudied, clinical, and social variables that may influence these relationships among preterm children, including heritability and psychosocial risks. Conclusion: Future work in this domain should continue to leverage longitudinal evaluations of preterm infants which include both neuroimaging and detailed serial neurodevelopmental assessments to further characterize relationships between imaging measures and impairment, information necessary for advancing our understanding of modifiable risk factors underlying these disorders and best practices for improving neurodevelopmental trajectories in this high-risk clinical population.

Original languageEnglish
Article number38
JournalJournal of neurodevelopmental disorders
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 13 2018


  • Functional connectivity
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Prematurity
  • Structural connectivity


Dive into the research topics of 'Aberrant structural and functional connectivity and neurodevelopmental impairment in preterm children'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this