Intrauterine growth restriction has been linked to infant behavioral problems. While typically only birth weight is examined, here the authors assessed fetal circulatory redistribution, also called the "brain-sparing effect," which is a fetal adaptive reaction to placental insufficiency. They aimed to investigate whether fetal circulatory redistribution protects against behavioral problems. Within the Generation R Study (Rotterdam, the Netherlands, 2003-2007), fetal circulation variables for the umbilical artery and the middle and anterior cerebral arteries were assessed with Doppler ultrasound in late pregnancy. Ratios between placental resistance and cerebral resistance were related to behavioral problems, as measured by the Child Behavior Checklist, in 935 toddlers aged 18 months. The umbilical/anterior cerebral ratio was associated with the Total Problems summary score from the Child Behavior Checklist (per standard-deviation increase, odds ratio = 1.2, 95% confidence interval: 1.0, 1.5). Children with higher umbilical/anterior cerebral ratios had higher risks of internalizing problems, emotional reactivity, somatic complaints, and attention problems. A high umbilical/middle cerebral ratio was related to higher scores on the Internalizing and Somatic Complaints scales. The authors conclude that infants with circulatory redistribution in gestation are more likely to have behavioral problems. This suggests that "brain-sparing" does not completely spare the brain and indicates underlying pathology with consequences for later behavior.

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American Journal of Epidemiology
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Roza, S., Steegers, E., Verburg, B. O., Jaddoe, V., Moll, H., Hofman, A., … Tiemeier, H. (2008). What is spared by fetal brain-sparing? Fetal circulatory redistribution and behavioral problems in the general population. American Journal of Epidemiology, 168(10), 1145–1152. doi:10.1093/aje/kwn233