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Nearly one in five children with CHD is born with white matter injury that can be recognised on postnatal MRI by the presence of T1 hyperintense lesions. This pattern of white matter injury is known to portend poor neurodevelopmental outcomes, but the exact aetiology and histologic characterisation of these lesions have never been described. A fetal sheep was cannulated at gestational age 110 days onto a pumpless extracorporeal oxygenator via the umbilical vessels and supported in a fluid environment for 14.5 days. The fetus was supported under hypoxic conditions (mean oxygen delivery 16 ml/kg/day) to simulate the in utero conditions of CHD. At necropsy, the brain was fixed, imaged with MRI, and then stained to histologically identify areas of injury. Under hypoxemic in utero conditions, the fetus developed a T1 hyperintense lesion in its right frontal lobe. Histologically, this lesion was characterised by microvascular proliferation and astrocytosis without gliosis. These findings may provide valuable insight into the aetiology of white matter injury in neonates with CHD.
The objective of this study was to investigate changes in serum biomarkers of acute brain injury, including white matter and astrocyte injury during chronic foetal hypoxaemia. We have previously shown histopathological changes in myelination and neuronal density in fetuses with chronic foetal hypoxaemia at a level consistent with CHD.
Mid-gestation foetal sheep (110 ± 3 days gestation) were cannulated and attached to a pumpless, low-resistance oxygenator circuit, and incubated in a sterile fluid environment mimicking the intrauterine environment. Fetuses were maintained with an oxygen delivery of 20–25 ml/kg/min (normoxemia) or 14–16 ml/kg/min (hypoxaemia). Myelin Basic Protein and Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein serum levels in the two groups were assessed by ELISA at baseline and at 7, 14, and 21 days of support.
Based on overlapping 95% confidence intervals, there were no statistically significant differences in either Myelin Basic Protein or Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein serum levels between the normoxemic and hypoxemic groups, at any time point. No statistically significant correlations were observed between oxygen delivery and levels of Myelin Basic Protein and Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein.
Chronic foetal hypoxaemia during mid-gestation is not associated with elevated serum levels of acute white matter (Myelin Basic Protein) or astrocyte injury (Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein), in this model. In conjunction with our previously reported findings, our data support the hypothesis that the brain dysmaturity with impaired myelination found in fetuses with chronic hypoxaemia is caused by disruption of normal developmental pathways rather than by direct cellular injury.
Despite advances in neonatal intensive care, prematurity remains an unsolved clinical challenge and a leading cause of infant morbidity and mortality . Approximately 6% of all live births in the USA are considered extremely preterm (delivery at less than 28 weeks’ gestation), and the incidence of prematurity has slowly risen over the past decade . Prematurity is thought to account for one-third of infant mortality , one-half of cerebral palsy, and 80% of survivors born at 22–28 weeks’ gestation will suffer at least one major co-morbidity .
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