Two drugs that are given to premature infants who are being treated for lung damage may injure the brain, according to a new study.
Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine say that glucocorticoid medications lead to brain cell death in young mice – and may have the same effect on human babies.
Glucocorticoid drugs are typically given to women who are at risk of pre-term birth.
Even a single exposure to this type of drug was found to reduce the number of neurons in the cerebellum – the part of the brain that is in charge of movement and related functions.
"The cells that are damaged are called neural progenitor cells, which are responsible for producing new neurons," lead author Kevin K. Noguchi explained. "So you can imagine that if you kill the cells responsible for producing new neurons, you can cause severe neurodevelopmental effects."
The researchers said that previous research has shown that glucocorticoids can decrease a child’s IQ.
Their findings were reported at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
Scientists are still investigating the possible reasons why premature babies’ brains may develop differently than other infants’.