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Nov 03, 2013

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Oct. 31, 2013 — Neonatologists seem to perform miracles in the fight to support the survival of babies born prematurely.

To promote their survival, cortisol-like drugs called glucocorticoids are administered frequently to women in preterm labor to accelerate their babies’ lung maturation prior to birth. Cortisol is a substance naturally released by the body when stressed. But the levels of glucocorticoids administered to promote lung development are higher than that achieved with typical stress, perhaps only mirrored in the body’s reaction to extreme stresses.

The benefit of glucocorticoids is undisputed and has certainly saved the lives of countless babies, but this exposure also may have some negative consequences. Indeed, excessive glucocorticoid levels may have effects on brain development, perhaps contributing to emotional problems later in life.

In this issue of Biological Psychiatry, Dr. Elysia Davis at the University of Denver and her colleagues report new findings on the effects of synthetic glucocorticoid on human brain development. Their study focused on healthy children who were born full-term, avoiding the confounding effects of premature birth.

The investigators conducted brain imaging sessions in and carefully assessed 54 children, 6-10 years of age. The mothers of the participating children also completed reports on their child’s behavior. The researchers then divided the children into two groups: those who were exposed to glucocorticoids prenatally and those who were not.

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