Atypical neuronal activation during a spatial working memory task in 13-year-old very preterm children

Pia Maria S.H. Arthursson, Deanne K. Thompson, Megan Spencer-Smith, Jian Chen, Tim Silk, Lex W. Doyle, Peter J. Anderson

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5 Citations (Scopus)


Children born very preterm (VP; <32 weeks' gestational age) are at risk for unfavorable outcomes in several cognitive domains, including spatial working memory (WM). The underlying neural basis of these cognitive impairments is poorly understood. We investigated differences in neuronal activation during spatial WM using a backward span (BS) task relative to a control (C) task in 45 VP children and 19 term-born controls aged 13 years. VP children showed significantly more activation in the bilateral superior frontal gyrus and significantly less activation in the left parahippocampal gyrus compared with controls. We further explored the distinct contributions of maintenance and manipulation processes of WM using forward span (FS)>C and BS > FS, respectively. There were no significant group differences in neuronal activation for FS > C. However, BS > FS revealed that VP children had significantly greater activation in the left middle frontal gyrus, in the left superior parietal gyrus and right cerebellar tonsil, and significantly less activation in the right precentral and postcentral gyrus and left insula compared with controls. Taken together these results suggest that VP children at 13 years of age show an atypical neuronal activation during spatial WM, specifically related to manipulation of spatial information in WM. It is unclear whether these findings reflect delayed maturation and/or recruitment of alternative neuronal networks as a result of neuroplasticity. Hum Brain Mapp 38:6172–6184, 2017.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6172-6184
Number of pages13
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • behavior and behavior mechanisms
  • child development
  • memory
  • mental competency
  • mental processes
  • neurobehavioral manifestations
  • premature birth
  • short-term

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