Serum docosahexaenoic acid levels are associated with brain volumes in extremely preterm born infants

Lisa M. Hortensius, William Hellström, Karin Sävman, Rolf A. Heckemann, Isabella M. Björkman-Burtscher, Floris Groenendaal, Mats X. Andersson, Anders K. Nilsson, Maria Luisa Tataranno, Ruurd M. van Elburg, Ann Hellström, Manon J. N. L. Benders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle*Academicpeer-review


Background: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA) are important for fetal brain growth and development. Our aim was to evaluate the association between serum DHA and AA levels and brain volumes in extremely preterm infants. Methods: Infants born at <28 weeks gestational age in 2013–2015, a cohort derived from a randomized controlled trial comparing two types of parenteral lipid emulsions, were included (n = 90). Serum DHA and AA levels were measured at postnatal days 1, 7, 14, and 28, and the area under the curve was calculated. Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging was performed at term-equivalent age (n = 66), and volumes of six brain regions were automatically generated. Results: After MR image quality assessment and area under the curve calculation, 48 infants were included (gestational age mean [SD] 25.5 [1.4] weeks). DHA levels were positively associated with total brain (B = 7.966, p = 0.012), cortical gray matter (B = 3.653, p = 0.036), deep gray matter (B = 0.439, p = 0.014), cerebellar (B = 0.932, p = 0.003), and white matter volume (B = 3.373, p = 0.022). AA levels showed no association with brain volumes. Conclusions: Serum DHA levels during the first 28 postnatal days were positively associated with volumes of several brain structures in extremely preterm infants at term-equivalent age. Impact: Higher serum levels of DHA in the first 28 postnatal days are positively associated with brain volumes at term-equivalent age in extremely preterm born infants.Especially the most immature infants suffer from low DHA levels in the first 28 postnatal days, with little increase over time.Future research is needed to explore whether postnatal fatty acid supplementation can improve brain development and may serve as a nutritional preventive and therapeutic treatment option in extremely preterm infants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1177-1185
Number of pages9
JournalPediatric research
Issue number6
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

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