Objective: To describe (1) the relationship between nutrition and the preterm-at-term infant phenotype, (2) phenotypic differences between preterm-at-term infants and healthy term born infants and (3) relationships between somatic and brain MRI outcomes.
Design: Prospective observational study.
Setting: UK tertiary neonatal unit.
Participants: Preterm infants (<32 weeks gestation) (n=22) and healthy term infants (n=39)
Main outcome measures: Preterm nutrient intake; total and regional adipose tissue (AT) depot volumes; brain volume and proximal cerebral arterial vessel tortuosity (CAVT) in preterm infants and in term infants.
Results: Preterm nutrition was deficient in protein and high in carbohydrate and fat. Preterm nutrition was not related to AT volumes, brain volume or proximal CAVT score; a positive association was noted between human milk intake and proximal CAVT score (r=0.44, p=0.05). In comparison to term infants, preterm infants had increased total adiposity, comparable brain volumes and reduced proximal CAVT scores. There was a significant negative correlation between deep subcutaneous abdominal AT volume and brain volume in preterm infants (r=−0.58, p=0.01).
Conclusions: Though there are significant phenotypic differences between preterm infants at term and term infants, preterm macronutrient intake does not appear to be a determinant. Our preliminary data suggest that (1) human milk may exert a beneficial effect on cerebral arterial vessel tortuosity and (2) there is a negative correlation between adiposity and brain volume in preterm infants at term. Further work is warranted to see if our findings can be replicated and to understand the causal mechanisms.