Neonatal hippocampal volume moderates the effects of early postnatal enrichment on cognitive development

Judith Overfeld, Sonja Entringer, Jerod M Rasmussen, Christine M Heim, Martin A Styner, John H Gilmore, Pathik D Wadhwab and Claudia Buss

Environmental enrichment, particularly during the early life phases of enhanced neuroplasticity, can stimulate cognitive development. However, individuals exhibit considerable variation in their response to environmental enrichment. Recent evidence suggests that certain neurophenotypes such as hippocampal size may index inter-individual differences in sensitivity to environmental conditions. We conducted a prospective, longitudinal investigation in a cohort of 75 mother-child dyads to investigate whether neonatal hippocampal volume moderates the effects of the postnatal environment on cognitive development. Newborn hippocampal volume was quantified shortly after birth (26.2 ± 12.5 days) by structural MRI. Measures of infant environmental enrichment (assessed by the IT-HOME) and cognitive state (assessed by the Bayley-III) were obtained at 6 months of age (6.09 ± 1.43 months). The interaction between neonatal hippocampal volume and enrichment predicted infant cognitive development (b = 0.01, 95 % CI [0.00, 0.02], t = 2.08, p = .04), suggesting that exposure to a stimulating environment had a larger beneficial effect on cognitive outcomes among infants with a larger hippocampus as neonates. Our findings suggest that the effects of the postnatal environment on infant cognitive development are conditioned, in part, upon characteristics of the newborn brain, and that newborn hippocampal volume is a candidate neurophenotype in this context.

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Dev Cogn Neurosci. 45:100820 (2020)


cognitive developmentdifferential susceptibilityenvironmental enrichmenthippocampusinfancy
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