Preterm birth is a major cause for neonatal morbidity and mortality, and is frequently associated with adverse neurological outcomes. The transition from intrauterine to extrauterine life at birth is particularly challenging for preterm infants. The main physiological driver for extrauterine transition is the establishment of spontaneous breathing. However, preterm infants have difficulty clearing lung liquid, have insufficient surfactant levels, and underdeveloped lungs. Further, preterm infants have an underdeveloped brainstem, resulting in reduced respiratory drive. These factors facilitate the increased requirement for respiratory support. A principal cause of preterm birth is intrauterine infection/inflammation (chorioamnionitis), and infants with chorioamnionitis have an increased risk and severity of neurological damage, but also demonstrate impaired autoresuscitation capacity and prevalent apnoeic episodes. The brainstem contains vital respiratory centers which provide the neural drive for breathing, but the impact of preterm birth and/or chorioamnionitis on this brain region is not well understood. The aim of this review is to provide an overview of the role and function of the brainstem respiratory centers, and to highlight the proposed mechanisms of how preterm birth and chorioamnionitis may affect central respiratory functions.
- Brainstem respiratory centers
- PreBötzinger complex
- Preterm birth