Recent research has identified a correlation between brain injuries at birth and lower levels of dopamine in the brain long-term. The study sought to examine chemical changes in the brain for individuals who were born prematurely, as well as those who experienced brain injury during labor and delivery or soon after birth. The results showed a specific interplay between premature birth, brain injury, and lasting decreases in one of the brain’s essential chemicals.
The study, published in the journal eLife, was a collaborative investigation among researchers from King’s College in London and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Researchers used medical imaging techniques, PET scans and MRI’s of the brain, in addition to a variety psychological tests to determine the potential impact of infant brain damage and brain chemistry later in life. Study participants were classified in one of three groups: people born prematurely who suffered birth injuries involving brain damage, people who were born prematurely and did not suffer brain birth injuries, and people born healthy at full-term.
Complications of Brain Injury and Premature Birth
It is important to note that not all babies born prematurely experience birth injuries. Many premature infants develop normally and go on to live as health adults. However, premature birth is among the leading risk factors for birth injuries. When a baby is born prematurely, they are vulnerable to many complications and birth injuries, including those involving brain damage.
As far as premature birth rates, approximately 10 percent of babies are born prematurely. Premature birth is defined as delivery of a child before 37 weeks gestation. When a baby is born before 32 weeks of pregnancy, this is considered very preterm. Among infants in the latter category, there is an even greater risk of brain injury during birth because the brain has yet to fully develop at this point. In addition, about 15 to 20 percent of newborns born before 32 weeks will experience bleeding the brain soon after birth. Bleeding in the brain in early life can also lead to serious brain damage.
If a child suffers a brain injury during labor or delivery, such as birth hypoxia or fetal distress, the brain may suffer irreparable harm. Brain damage during birth has the potential to cause hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), Cerebral Palsy, developmental delays, learning disabilities, vision or hearing loss, cognitive impairments, and behavioral problems.
Brain Damage at Birth and Dopamine Levels
Notably, researchers in this study did not find a direct correlation between premature birth and lower dopamine levels when these factors exist in isolation. They did, however, find a relationship among individuals who were born prematurely and experienced brain injury during or soon after birth.
In the group of people born prematurely who experienced some form of brain injury around the time of birth, there was a significant decrease in dopamine levels in adulthood. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is essential for proper functioning of a person’s pleasure and reward centers. It is also critical for emotional control, movement, and motivation. People with lower levels of dopamine may experience lack of motivation, lack of enjoyment of life, and are more at risk for substance abuse and addictive behavior.
Clearly, a link between brain injuries, premature birth, and dopamine is an extremely important addition to the medical literature. One of the study’s authors, Dr Sean Froudist-Walsh, said “We found that dopamine, a chemical that’s important for learning and enjoyment, is affected in people who had early brain injury, but not in the way a lot of people would have thought–dopamine levels were actually lower in these individuals. This could be important to how we think about treating people who suffered early brain damage and develop mental illness. I hope this will motivate scientists, doctors and policymakers to pay more attention to problems around birth, and how they can affect the brain in the long-term.”
With continued research into how brain injuries at birth affect the brain, academicians and medical professionals can hopefully one day develop specific treatments and protocols to address the potential impact of these injuries in newborns and adults. Until then, there are many therapies available to support children who suffer birth injuries, including physical therapy, behavioral therapy, and occupational therapy.
Did Your Child Suffer Brain Injury at Birth in New Jersey?
The costs of your child’s long-term care is not a burden you need to bear alone. If medical negligence led to your child’s birth injury, you can pursue compensation. Perhaps you’re unsure if your child’s birth injury was preventable. We will thoroughly review your case to determine if substandard medical care played a role. If a healthcare provider’s mistake caused your child’s brain damage or birth trauma, the highly experienced New Jersey birth injury attorneys at Fronzuto Law Group can help you obtain damages for medical and rehabilitative treatments, therapies, and the pain and suffering you were forced to endure. With offices in Woodland Park and New York City, we assist clients in Bergen County, Passaic County, Morris County, Hudson County, and throughout New Jersey and New York. If you would like to speak with lawyer about your child’s birth injury, contact us at (973)-435-4551 or fill our our online form for a free case review.
The effect of perinatal brain injury on dopaminergic function and hippocampal volume in adult life, eLife
Complications at birth associated with lasting chemical changes in the brain, ScienceDaily