How preterm birth may impact language development

How preterm birth may impact language development

Altered development of a part of the auditory cortex in preterm infants is associated with poorer language skills in early childhood, finds a brain imaging study of very early-born babies in a neonatal intensive care unit. The research, published in eNeuro, suggests that developmental disturbances to this brain region may underlie speech and language difficulties observed in this population.

The neural machinery that supports hearing is typically functional by 15 weeks before birth, making babies sensitive to speech and language while they are still in the womb.

Researchers  used a magnetic resonance imaging technique to track changes in Heschl's gyrus, a part of the brain that contains both the primary auditory cortex (pAC) and nonprimary auditory cortex (nAC), in 90 infants born prior to 30 weeks gestation.

They show that the pAC matures earlier but more slowly than the nAC, which changes rapidly in the last 10 weeks of the typical gestation period. Developmental differences in the nAC of preterm infants were associated with reduced expressive language ability, such as gesturing and vocabulary, in a follow-up assessment at two years of age.