Association of Gestational Age at Birth With Brain Morphometry

Hanan El Marroun, Runyu Zou, Michelle F Leeuwenburg, Eric A P Steegers, Irwin K M Reiss, Ryan L Muetzel, Steven A Kushner, Henning Tiemeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Importance: Preterm and postterm births are associated with adverse neuropsychiatric outcomes. However, it remains unclear whether variation of gestational age within the 37- to 42-week range of term deliveries is associated with neurodevelopment.

Objective: To investigate the association of gestational age at birth (GAB) with structural brain morphometry in children aged 10 years.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This population-based cohort study included pregnant women living in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, with an expected delivery date between April 1, 2002, and January 31, 2006. The study evaluated 3079 singleton children with GAB ranging from 26.3 to 43.3 weeks and structural neuroimaging at 10 years of age from the Generation R Study, a longitudinal, population-based prospective birth cohort from early pregnancy onward in Rotterdam. Data analysis was performed from March 1, 2019, to February 28, 2020, and at the time of the revision based on reviewer suggestions.

Exposures: The GAB was calculated based on ultrasonographic assessment of crown-rump length (<12 weeks 5 days) or biparietal diameter (≥12 weeks 5 days) in dedicated research centers.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Brain structure, including global and regional brain volumes and surface-based cortical measures (thickness, surface area, and gyrification), was quantified by magnetic resonance imaging.

Results: In the 3079 children (1546 [50.2%] female) evaluated at 10 years of age, GAB was linearly associated with global and regional brain volumes. Longer gestational duration was associated with larger brain volumes; for example, every 1-week-longer gestational duration corresponded to an additional 4.5 cm3/wk (95% CI, 2.7-6.3 cm3/wk) larger total brain volume. These associations persisted when the sample was restricted to children born at term (GAB of 37-42 weeks: 4.8 cm3/wk; 95% CI, 1.8-7.7 cm3/wk). No evidence of nonlinear associations between GA and brain morphometry was observed.

Conclusions and Relevance: In this cohort study, gestational duration was linearly associated with brain morphometry during childhood, including within the window of term delivery. These findings may have marked clinical importance, particularly given the prevalence of elective cesarean deliveries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1149-1158
Number of pages10
JournalJAMA Pediatrics
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain/diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Waves/physiology
  • Child
  • Child Development/physiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Gray Matter/diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Netherlands


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