At the 2019 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in Baltimore, researchers from Children’s National Medical Center in Washington DC, presented exciting new research using brain imaging technology to show the benefits of a human milk diet for our most vulnerable patients. Previous research has established an exclusive human milk diet has many benefits for neonates, including improved brain growth and neurodevelopmental outcomes. Catherine Limperopoulos, Ph.D., and colleagues, at Children’s National are using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to establish “what makes breastfeeding so beneficial for newborns’ developing brains.”
The researchers used proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), a noninvasive technique that allows for quantitative assessment of regional brain biochemistry. Examining the right frontal white matter and cerebellum of preterm neonates, the researchers sought to “measure metabolites essential for growth…” and development. They chose to specifically look at the right frontal white matter and cerebellum as these two regions are essential for balance, muscle coordination, and high-order cognitive functions. Each metabolite has its own fingerprint, allowing the researchers to measure and compare the biochemical composition of these key brain areas for breastfed and formula fed neonates.
Compared to formula fed counterparts, the MRS data for breastfed neonates showed:
- Higher levels of inositol (glucose-like molecule) in the cerebral white matter.
- Higher levels of cerebellar creatine.
- Direct relationship between levels of both creatine and choline and the percentage of days neonates were fed an exclusive human milk diet.
Why are these metabolites associated with greater brain maturity?
Creatine plays a key role in recycling ATP, “the cell’s energy currency.” High levels of creatinine indicate higher cellular maturation. Additionally, choline is associated with cell membrane turnover, so higher levels indicate more cell growth.
Researchers hope to continue to leverage the power of neonatal brain imaging to improve our understanding of brain growth and development, and specifically, how “breastfeeding boots neurodevelopment for preterm infants”.
Want to learn more about emerging brain imaging technologies? Click below to register for one of our upcoming workshops on the Future of Neonatal Neuroimaging!