An exploratory study on the role of active sleep in microstructural development of corticospinal tracts in preterm infants.
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Layman's summary. Infants during pregnancy undergo a lot of changes in their organism, including their brain and specific parts of it. Some infants are born too early with not enough time spent in the protective place that is their mother’s womb. This can result in injury to various parts of the brain, such as the white matter. White matter connections, among other things, carry the main pathway of neurons called the corticospinal tract. This pathway goes from the spine to the top of the brain and is responsible for movement and processing of sensory experience. Those preterm infants often have movement problems that are visible only later in childhood. It is important to find out what we can do to make sure these infants have the best conditions for their brain to carry on with the maturation processes. Sleep is one the things that are much needed for the brain. It takes care of toxins, helps us think better and provides the environment for creating important growth hormones. Preterm infants spend most of their time sleeping and most of it is in active sleep. It is called active because infants move their bodies, have muscle jerks, and can even show facial expressions. This state has been studied in animals and was found to be the source of help with the development of sensory and motor processing. Each movement lets the infant learn about their body; therefore, their brain is being stimulated during sleep. We wanted to check how big the role of active sleep is in the development of white matter in preterm infants. White matter can be studied looking at how water behaves in the brain. Different maturation processes affect the freedom with which water molecules can move in the brain. The more developed the brain is, the more directional the movement of water is. This work helped us understand more in what direction sleep studies could go. We calculated that we need many more infants to have clear results. Moreover, we found that the number of days the infants spent with respiratory support greatly affected the role of sleep in the maturation of their brains. I hope it can inspire future studied to study what we can do to make sure preterm infants’ sleep is protected in the best way for their brain development.