Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2017

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Nopoulos, Peggy C.

First Committee Member

Andreasen, Nancy C.

Second Committee Member

Bassuk, Alexander

Third Committee Member

Bell, Edward F.

Fourth Committee Member

Bonthius, Daniel


Due to a steady increase in the number of babies born prematurely over the past 20 years, prematurity (a birth occurring before 37 weeks gestation) has emerged as an important public health concern. Even with improved survival of these infants, they remain at risk for many unfavorable health outcomes. Most of those risks include cognitive and behavioral deficits that show up later in life, highlighting the importance of studying the development of the brain, in particular. The current study investigates brain development outcomes in the first years of life using: (1) structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study brain structure, and (2) three novel cognitive assessments of visual working memory, attention, and speed of processing information. Healthy 12-month-old infants were recruited through University of Iowa’s Neonatal Admissions Registry. An MRI imaging acquisition protocol was developed in order to scan infants during their naptime without sedation. Additionally, a new automatic approach to classifying areas of the brain was developed at the University of Iowa Department of Radiology for 12-month-old brain images. These novel cognitive assessments are based on infant eye movements (including how long it takes for an infant to react to certain stimuli and the direction of their looking). Results from this study support the use of these cognitive tasks to detect specific functional changes in performance based on gestational age. Therefore, these tasks may be potential early markers of risk in preterm populations, but continued investigations are necessary to fully elucidate early brain outcomes during this critical period of development.


Brain, Development, Prematurity, Preterm


xii, 106 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 101-106).


Copyright © 2017 Amanda Michelle Benavides