Some kids more self-sufficient than others, depending on the length of their time in the womb. In particular, the possibility of physiological and psychological disorders increases in preterm babies. Regarding cognitive impairments, it has been shown that preterm children differ from their full-term peers on their executive functions. In addition, given that an interrelation of cognitive and motor development, deficits in motor skills after preterm birth affect executive functions.

In a new study, researchers Dr. Sebastian Ludyga, Prof.Dr. Uwe Pühse, Prof. Markus Gerber, Manuel Mücke, Dr. Mark Brotzmann, Prof. Peter Weber from the University of Basel in collaboration with Dr. Sakari Lemola from Bielefeld University; Dr. Andrea Capone Mori from Kantonsspital Aarau Clinic for Children and Teenagers investigated the association between very preterm birth and behavioral and neurophysiological indicators of response inhibition, and physical fitness aspects of this association. In particular, 9-13 years old kids who completed a visual Go/No-Go task were instructed to press a button when given the Go signal but suppress their motor response. Their research work is published in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience.

This present case-control study of Dr. Ludyga and colleagues has concluded that preterm children born at less than 32 weeks of pregnancy have impaired response inhibition compared with children born at more than 37 weeks of pregnancy. The team applied some tasks to measure motor skills and cardiorespiratory fitness, and then they conducted a visual cognitive test to examine behavioral and neurophysiological correlates of response inhibition. During the experiment, researchers monitored specific brain activity parameters using an EEG (electroencephalogram) to examine the suppression of a prepotent motor response.

Dr. Ludyga’s team tested the participants’ gross and fine motor skills regarding physical fitness. They found that the greater the deficit in motor skills, the more limited the response inhibition was in the children born very prematurely. Also, only motor skills affected the association between very preterm birth, behavioral performance, and neurophysiological indices of response inhibition. “This provides a first indication that interventions should target such skills to reduce preterm birth-related deficits in response inhibition,” said lead author Dr. Ludyga.

Another important finding of this study is that cardiorespiratory fitness did not mediate the association between very premature birth and decreased neurophysiological indices of response inhibition in contrast to motor skills. In this context, motor skills support rather than cardiorespiratory fitness will contribute to the prevention of impaired cognitive control process in very early birth.

In summary, children born very preterm show impaired response inhibition in contrast to the same-age children who had been born at term during preadolescence. “On a neurocognitive level, this becomes evident by a reduced engagement of focal attention for evaluation processes that guide the subsequent selection of an appropriate motor response or its suppression. Motor skills mediate the associations of very preterm birth with both behavioral and neurocognitive impairments in cognitive control, ” said Dr. Ludyga.

Journal Reference and main image credit:
Ludyga, Sebastian, Uwe Pühse, Markus Gerber, Manuel Mücke, Sakari Lemola, Andrea Capone Mori, Mark Brotzmann, and Peter Weber. “Very preterm birth and cognitive control: The mediating roles of motor skills and physical fitness.” Developmental cognitive neuroscience 49 (2021): 100956. DOI: 10.1016/j.dcn.2021.100956

About the Author

Dr. Sebastian Ludyga, Ph.D.

Dr. Sebastian Ludyga is a senior researcher at the Department of Sports, Exercise and Health at the University of Basel (Switzerland). His research focuses on the effects of exercise on neurocognition in children with and without neurodevelopmental disorders. He has extensive experience in neuroimaging techniques and their application in the study of mechanisms underlying exercise-induced cognitive benefits. He is a member of the European Council of Sports Science and joined the editorial board of Biological Psychology. Dr. Ludyga received an M.A. from the Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg (Germany) and a Ph.D. from the Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (Germany) in Sports Science