Neurocognitive functioning in preschool children with sickle cell disease

Andrew M. Heitzer, Diana L. Cohen, Victoria I. Okhomina, Ana Trpchevska, Brian Potter, Jennifer Longoria, Jerlym S. Porter, Jeremie H. Estepp, Allison King, Misham Henley, Guolian Kang, Jane S. Hankins

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Background: Children with sickle cell disease (SCD) experience neurodevelopmental delays; however, there is limited research with preschool-age children. This study examined neurocognitive risk and protective factors in preschoolers with SCD. Procedure: Sixty-two patients with SCD (60% HbSS/HbSβ0-thalassemia; 40% HbSC/HbSβ+-thalassemia) between the ages of 3 and 6 years (mean = 4.77 years) received a neuropsychological evaluation as routine systematic surveillance. Patients were not selected for disease severity, prior central nervous system findings, or existing cognitive concerns. Thirty-four patients (82% HbSS/HbSβ0-thalassemia) were prescribed hydroxyurea (HU) at the time of their neuropsychological evaluation. On average, these patients had been prescribed HU at 2.15 (standard deviation = 1.45) years of age. The average dose was 28.8 mg/kg/day. Besides genotype, there were no group differences in medical or demographic factors based on HU treatment status. Results: Patients with HbSS/HbSβ0-thalassemia scored below normative expectations on measures of intelligence, verbal comprehension, and school readiness (false discovery rate-adjusted p-value [pFDR] <.05). Age, sickle genotype, and HU treatment exposure were not associated with measured neurocognitive outcomes (pFDR >.05). Greater social vulnerability at the community level was associated with poorer performance on measures of intellectual functioning, verbal comprehension, visuomotor control, and school readiness, as well as parent report of executive dysfunction (pFDR <.05). Greater household socioeconomic status was positively associated with academic readiness. Conclusions: Preschoolers with severe SCD (HbSS/HbSβ0-thalassemia) perform below age expectations on measures of intelligence and academic readiness. Sociodemographic factors were stronger drivers of neurocognitive performance than disease severity or disease-modifying treatment. Neurodevelopmental interventions targeting the home and broader community environment are needed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere29531
JournalPediatric Blood and Cancer
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022


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