Boardman et al (2020) Impact of preterm birth on brain development and long-term outcome: protocol for a cohort study in Scotland. BMJ Open 10(3):e035854.

Impact of preterm birth on brain development and long-term outcome: protocol for a cohort study in Scotland.

Boardman J. P., Hall J., Thrippleton M. J., Reynolds R. M., Bogaert D., Davidson D. J., Schwarze J., Drake A. J., Chandran S., Bastin M. E., Fletcher-Watson S.

BMJ Open. (2020) 10(3):e035854

doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2019-035854

Davidson lab supported by funding from: Action Medical Research, Cheif Scientist Office



Preterm birth is closely associated with altered brain development and is a leading cause of neurodevelopmental, cognitive and behavioural impairments across the life course. We aimed to investigate neuroanatomic variation and adverse outcomes associated with preterm birth by studying a cohort of preterm infants and controls born at term using brain MRI linked to biosamples and clinical, environmental and neuropsychological data.


Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort is a prospective longitudinal cohort study at the University of Edinburgh. We plan to recruit 300 infants born at <33 weeks of gestational age (GA) and 100 healthy control infants born after 37 weeks of GA. Multiple domains are assessed: maternal and infant clinical and demographic information; placental histology; immunoregulatory and trophic proteins in umbilical cord and neonatal blood; brain macrostructure and microstructure from structural and diffusion MRI (dMRI); DNA methylation; hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity; social cognition, attention and processing speed from eye tracking during infancy and childhood; neurodevelopment; gut and respiratory microbiota; susceptibility to viral infections; and participant experience. Main analyses include creation of novel methods for extracting information from neonatal structural and dMRI, regression analyses of predictors of brain maldevelopment and neurocognitive outcome associated with preterm birth, and determination of the quantitative predictive performance of MRI and other early life factors for childhood outcome.


Ethical approval has been obtained from the National Research Ethics Service (NRES), South East Scotland Research Ethics Committee (NRES numbers 11/55/0061 and 13/SS/0143 (phase I) and 16/SS/0154 (phase II)), and NHS Lothian Research and Development (2016/0255). Results are disseminated through open access journals, scientific meetings, social media, newsletters anda study website (, and we engage with the University of Edinburgh public relations and media office to ensure maximum publicity and benefit.

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