How does prematurity affect minipuberty and the development of mental and non-mental disorders in later life?
Intriguingly, the amplitude of minipuberty (i.e. hormonal FSH levels) varies tremendously depending on gestational age at birth in both boys and girls, increasing up to 300-fold in preterm infants, comparing to the levels reported in fullterm newborns. Hyperandrogenism or altered follicular development, both occurring because of the aberrant minipuberty, could influence growth, neuronal network maturation, body composition, fat distribution, blood pressure, and lipid and glucose metabolism by altering their programming, thereby contributing to the risk of developing many noncommunicable diseases.
In fact, according to the WHO, preterm birth is one of the largest single conditions in the Global Burden of Disease analysis, due to its high mortality but also the considerable risk of lifelong morbidities, including neurodevelopmental disabilities (e.g. cerebral palsy, mental retardation, hearing loss, visual impairments), asthma, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, and emotional problems. As adults, preterm infants also have higher rates of insulin resistance and hypertension, thus being more prone to metabolic and cardiovascular disorders, compared to those born at term.