University of Oulu

Suikkanen, J., Miettola, S., Heinonen, K. et al. Reaction times, learning, and executive functioning in adults born preterm. Pediatr Res 89, 198–204 (2021).

Reaction times, learning, and executive functioning in adults born preterm

Saved in:
Author: Suikkanen, Julia1,2; Miettola, Satu1; Heinonen, Kati3;
Organizations: 1Department of Public Health Solutions, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki and Oulu, Finland
2Children’s Hospital, Pediatric Research Center, University of Helsinki, Helsinki University Hospital, Helsinki, Finland
3Department of Psychology and Logopedics, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
4Children, Adolescents and Families Unit, Department of Welfare, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Oulu, Finland
5PEDEGO Research Unit, MRC Oulu, Oulu University Hospital and University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
6Department of Child Psychiatry, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
7Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, MRC–PHE Center for Environment & Health, School of Public Health, Imperial College London, London, UK
8Center for Life Course Epidemiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
9Biocenter Oulu, Oulu, Finland
10Unit of Primary Care, Oulu University Hospital, Oulu, Finland
11Department of Clinical and Molecular Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.4 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2021
Publish Date: 2020-09-19


Background: This study examines cognitive functioning in adults born across the range of prematurity with appropriate or small for gestational age (SGA) birth weight compared with full-term controls.

Methods: ESTER Preterm Birth Study participants without severe disabilities, comprising 133 early preterm (<34 weeks, 17% SGA), 241 late preterm (34 + 0–36 + 6 weeks, 13% SGA), and 348 full-term subjects, performed the Cogstate® test at a mean age of 23.3 (SD = 1.2) years. Subtests measured paired associate learning, psychomotor function, executive function, spatial memory efficiency, visual memory, attention, working memory, visual learning, and emotional cognition. Data were analyzed with linear regression, full models adjusted for prenatal and postnatal factors and socioeconomic position.

Results: Early preterm, late preterm, and full-term participants showed similar abilities in almost all subtests. Early preterm participants had 0.6 fewer moves/10 s (95% CI: −1.0; −0.2, full model) and late preterm and SGA participants had 1.3 fewer moves/10 s (95% CI: −2.1; −0.4) than full-term controls in the Groton Maze Learning Test, indicating weaker spatial memory efficiency.

Conclusions: Adults born across the range of prematurity on average lack major defects in cognitive abilities. Cognitive problems may persist to adulthood only among those born the smallest: very preterm or preterm and SGA.

see all

Series: Pediatric research
ISSN: 0031-3998
ISSN-E: 1530-0447
ISSN-L: 0031-3998
Volume: 89
Pages: 198 - 204
DOI: 10.1038/s41390-020-0851-4
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 3123 Gynaecology and paediatrics
Funding: This study was supported by the Academy of Finland (SALVE program for 2009-2012 and grants 127437, 129306, 130326, 134791, 263924, and 315690 to E.K., grants 323910 to K.H., 1312670 to K.R., and 288966 to P.H.); the European Commission (Horizon 2020 Award SC1-2016-RTD-733280 RECAP to E.K. and K.R.); the European Commission (Dynamics of Inequality Across the Life-course: structures and processes (DIAL) No. 724363 PremLife to E.K. and K.R.); the Doctoral Program for Public Health, University of Tampere (to M.S.); the Emil Aaltonen Foundation (to E.K.); the Finnish Foundation for Pediatric Research (to E.K. and P.H.); the Jalmari and Rauha Ahokas Foundation (to E.K.); the Juho Vainio Foundation (to E.K., M.T., and J.S.); the Novo Nordisk Foundation (to E.K.); the Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation (to E.K. and K.R.); the Sigrid Jusélius Foundation (to E.K.); and the Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation (to E.K. and M.S.). The funding sources played no role in the design of the study, the collection, analysis, interpretation, or reporting of data, or the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.
Copyright information: © International Pediatric Research Foundation, Inc. 2020. This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Pediatric Research. The final authenticated version is available online at: