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Acute histologic chorioamnionitis independently and directly increases the risk for brain abnormalities seen on magnetic resonance imaging in very preterm infants

      Background

      The independent risk for neurodevelopmental impairments attributed to chorioamnionitis in premature infants remains controversial. Delayed brain maturation or injury identified on magnetic resonance imaging at term-equivalent age can be used as a surrogate measure of neurodevelopmental impairments that is less confounded by postdelivery neonatal intensive care unit environmental factors to investigate this relationship more clearly.

      Objective

      This study aimed to determine whether preterm infants born with moderate to severe acute histologic chorioamnionitis would have a higher magnetic resonance imaging–determined global brain abnormality score, independent of early premature birth, when compared with preterm infants with no or mild chorioamnionitis.

      Study Design

      This was a prospective, multicenter cohort study involving infants born very prematurely ≤32 weeks’ gestational age with acute moderate to severe histologic chorioamnionitis, graded using standard histologic criteria. Brain abnormalities were diagnosed and scored using a well-characterized, standardized scoring system captured using a high-resolution 3 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging research magnet. In secondary analyses, total brain volume and 4 magnetic resonance imaging metrics of cortical maturation (cortical surface area, sulcal depth, gyral index, and inner cortical curvature) were calculated using an automated algorithm and correlated with chorioamnionitis. The association of funisitis (any grade) with brain abnormalities was also explored. We investigated if premature birth mediated the relationship between histologic chorioamnionitis and brain abnormality score using mediation analysis.

      Results

      Of 353 very preterm infants, 297 infants had mild or no chorioamnionitis (controls), and 56 were diagnosed with moderate to severe acute histologic chorioamnionitis. The primary outcome brain abnormality score was significantly higher in histologic chorioamnionitis-exposed infants than in the controls (median, 4 vs 7; P<.001). Infants with acute histologic chorioamnionitis had significantly lower brain tissue volume (P=.03) and sulcal depth (P=.04), whereas other morphometric indices did not differ statistically. In the multiple regression analysis, we observed persistent significant relationships between moderate to severe acute histologic chorioamnionitis and brain abnormality scores (β=2.84; 1.51–4.16; P<.001), total brain volume (P=.03), and sulcal depth (P=.02). Funisitis was also significantly associated with brain abnormality score after adjustment for clinical confounders (P=.005). Mediation analyses demonstrated that 50% of brain abnormalities was an indirect consequence of premature birth, and the remaining 50% was a direct effect of moderate to severe acute histologic chorioamnionitis when compared with preterm infants with no or mild chorioamnionitis exposure. Examining gestational age as a mediator, funisitis did not exert a significant direct effect on brain abnormalities after the significant indirect effects of preterm birth were accounted for.

      Conclusion

      Acute histologic chorioamnionitis increases the risk for brain injury and delayed maturation, both directly and indirectly, by inducing premature birth.

      Key words

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