Neonatal white matter microstructure and emotional development during the preschool years in children who were born very preterm

Dana Kanel, Lucy D. Vanes, Diliana Pecheva, Laila Hadaya, Shona Falconer, Serena J. Counsell, David A. Edwards, Chiara Nosarti*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Children born very preterm (,33 weeks of gestation) are at a higher risk of developing socio-emotional difficulties compared with those born at term. In this longitudinal study, we tested the hypothesis that diffusion characteristics of white matter (WM) tracts implicated in socio-emotional processing assessed in the neonatal period are associated with socio-emotional development in 151 very preterm children previously enrolled into the Evaluation of Preterm Imaging study (EudraCT 2009-011602-42). All children underwent diffusion tensor imaging at term-equivalent age and fractional anisotropy (FA) was quantified in the uncinate fasciculus (UF), inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus (IFOF), inferior longitudinal fasciculus (ILF), and superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF). Children’s socio-emotional development was evaluated at preschool age (median = 4.63 years). Exploratory factor analysis conducted on the outcome variables revealed a three-factor structure, with latent constructs summarized as: “emotion moderation,” “social function,” and “empathy.” Results of linear regression analyses, adjusting for full-scale IQ and clinical and socio-demographic variables, showed an association between lower FA in the right UF and higher “emotion moderation” scores (b = 0.280; p, 0.001), which was mainly driven by negative affectivity scores (b = 0.281; p = 0.001). Results further showed an association between higher full-scale IQ and better social functioning (b = 0.334, p, 0.001). Girls had higher empathy scores than boys (b = 0.341, p = 0.006). These findings suggest that early alterations of diffusion characteristics of the UF could represent a biological substrate underlying the link between very preterm birth and emotional dysregulation in childhood and beyond.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberENEURO.0546-20.2021
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021


  • Diffusion MRI
  • Preterm children
  • Socio-emotional development
  • Tractography


Dive into the research topics of 'Neonatal white matter microstructure and emotional development during the preschool years in children who were born very preterm'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this