Preterm birth has a dramatic impact on polyunsaturated fatty acid exposures for the developing brain. This study examined the association between postnatal fatty acid levels and measures of brain injury and development, as well as outcomes.
A cohort of 60 preterm newborns (24-32 wk gestational age) was assessed using early and near-term magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies. Red blood cell fatty acid composition was analyzed coordinated with each scan. Outcome at a mean of 33 mo corrected age was assessed using the Bayley Scales of Infant Development, 3rd edition.
Adjusting for confounders, a 1% increase in postnatal docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) levels at early MRI was associated with 4.3-fold decreased odds of intraventricular hemorrhage, but was not associated with white matter injury or cerebellar haemorrhage. Higher DHA and lower linoleic acid (LA) levels at early MRI were associated with lower diffusivity in white matter tracts and corresponding improved developmental scores in follow-up.
Higher DHA and lower LA levels in the first few weeks of life are associated with decreased intraventricular haemorrhage, improved microstructural brain development, and improved outcomes in preterm born children. Early and possibly antenatal interventions in high-risk pregnancies need to be studied for potential benefits in preterm developmental outcomes.

PMID: 26761122

See following website for full manuscript.