Development of Cerebral Cortex in Prematurely Born Infants: Cell Proliferation, Differentiation, and Maturation of Neurons and Myelination in the Archi- and Neocortex

  • Hajnalka Ábrahám


Increased survival of prematurely born infants is a major achievement of contemporary perinatal and neonatal medicine. However, follow-up studies have shown that many of these children exhibit impaired development including short-term morbidity and long-term physical and mental disability. Many prematurely born children, even without perinatal complications, display cognitive and educational difficulties, while the severity of these difficulties correlates with the time of birth. The development of cerebral cortex involves a highly organized, elaborate, and long-lasting series of events which are not completed by the time of birth. Indeed, many developmental events continue after the 40th postconceptual week, which explains the extended morphological, behavioral, and cognitive development of children. This chapter reviews normal cerebral cortical development and morphological evidence of cortical maturation in preterm and full-term infants. Aspects of postnatal cortical development, including cell proliferation and maturation of neurons, myelination of the temporal archi- and neocortex cortex, are discussed and compared in preterm infants and age-matched, full-term controls. A detailed overview is given of the rate of postnatal neuronal proliferation in the human dentate gyrus after premature birth as well as about the dendritic and axonal maturation of archi- and neocortical neurons. The perinatal disappearance of predominantly prenatal cell types (e.g., Cajal-Retzius cells) in preterms and the development of cortical convolutions are described. Finally, myelination of cerebral cortex in prematurely born infants is compared to full-term controls.


Granule Cell Dentate Gyrus White Matter Lesion Hippocampal Formation Febrile Seizure 
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Regions of Ammon’s horn




Clusters of differentiation 31 (marker for endothelial cells)




Granule cell layer


γ-Aminobutyric acid


Gestational week(s)


Hilus of the dentate gyrus


Stratum lacunosum-moleculare


Molecular layer


Myelin basic protein


Stratum oriens


Stratum pyramidale


Periodic-acid Schiff reaction




Stratum radiatum


Subpial granular layer


Temporal cortex




White matter



The author wishes to thank Dr Susan Totterdell (Department of Pharmacology, University of Oxford) for her critical reading and correcting the manuscript. The constructive and helpful comments on the manuscript of Dr Laszlo Seress (Central Electron Microscopic Laboratory, University of Pecs) and the excellent technical assistance of Mrs Emese Papp in the histological preparations of the tissues are gratefully acknowledged. This work was supported by the Hungarian National Science Fund (OTKA) with grant # T047109 and by the Bolyai Scholarship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Central Electron Microscopic Laboratory, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of PécsPécsHungary

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