(HealthDay News) – Adolescents who were born prematurely have reduced neuroplasticity, which may explain their motor, learning, and memory difficulties, according to a study published in the Nov. 14 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

To examine motor cortex neuroplasticity, Julia B. Pitcher, PhD, from the University of Adelaide in Australia, and colleagues used a noninvasive transcranial magnetic brain stimulation technique to induce long-term depression-like neuroplasticity in adolescents who had been born early preterm (≤32 weeks), later preterm (33–37 weeks), or term (38–41 weeks).

The researchers found that, in response to brain stimulation, both preterm groups had reduced long-term depression-like neuroplasticity as well as low salivary cortisol levels. Compared with term-born young adults, term-born adolescents had enhanced motor cortex neuroplasticity.

“These findings provide a possible mechanistic link between the altered brain physiology of preterm birth and the subsequent associated behavioral deficits, particularly in learning and memory,” Pitcher and colleagues conclude. “They also suggest that altered hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function due to preterm birth may be a significant modulator of this altered neuroplasticity.”

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