The Structural Connectome and Internalizing and Externalizing Symptoms at 7 and 13 Years in Individuals Born Very Preterm and Full Term

Courtney P. Gilchrist, Deanne K. Thompson, Claire E. Kelly, Richard Beare, Christopher Adamson, Thijs Dhollander, Katherine Lee, Karli Treyvaud, Lillian G. Matthews, Mary Tolcos, Jeanie L.Y. Cheong, Terrie E. Inder, Lex W. Doyle, Angela Cumberland, Peter J. Anderson

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9 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Children born very preterm (VP) are at higher risk of emotional and behavioral problems compared with full-term (FT) children. We investigated the neurobiological basis of internalizing and externalizing symptoms in individuals born VP and FT by applying a graph theory approach. Methods: Structural and diffusion magnetic resonance imaging data were combined to generate structural connectomes and calculate measures of network integration and segregation at 7 (VP: 72; FT: 17) and 13 (VP: 125; FT: 44) years. Internalizing and externalizing symptoms were assessed at 7 and 13 years using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Linear regression models were used to relate network measures and internalizing and externalizing symptoms concurrently at 7 and 13 years. Results: Lower network integration (characteristic path length and global efficiency) was associated with higher internalizing symptoms in VP and FT children at 7 years, but not at 13 years. The association between network integration (characteristic path length) and externalizing symptoms at 7 years was weaker, but there was some evidence for differential associations between groups, with lower integration in the VP group and higher integration in the FT group associated with higher externalizing symptoms. At 13 years, there was some evidence that associations between network segregation (average clustering coefficient, transitivity, local efficiency) and externalizing symptoms differed between the VP and FT groups, with stronger positive associations in the VP group. Conclusions: This study provides insights into the neurobiological basis of emotional and behavioral problems after preterm birth, highlighting the role of the structural connectome in internalizing and externalizing symptoms in childhood and adolescence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)424-434
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • Adolescence
  • Childhood
  • Connectivity
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Premature birth
  • Psychopathology

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