NYMC Faculty Publications

First Page


Last Page


Document Type


Publication Date





Development of cortical interneurons continues until the end of human pregnancy. Premature birth deprives the newborns from the supply of maternal estrogen and a secure intrauterine environment. Indeed, preterm infants suffer from neurobehavioral disorders. This can result from both preterm birth and associated postnatal complications, which might disrupt recruitment and maturation of cortical interneurons. We hypothesized that interneuron subtypes, including parvalbumin-positive (PV(+)), somatostatin-positive (SST(+)), calretinin-positive (CalR(+)), and neuropeptide Y-positive (NPY(+)) interneurons, were recruited in the upper and lower cortical layers in a distinct manner with advancing gestational age. In addition, preterm birth would disrupt the heterogeneity of cortical interneurons, which might be reversed by estrogen treatment. These hypotheses were tested by analyzing autopsy samples from premature infants and evaluating the effect of estrogen supplementation in prematurely delivered rabbits. The PV(+) and CalR(+) neurons were abundant, whereas SST(+) and NPY(+) neurons were few in cortical layers of preterm human infants. Premature birth of infants reduced the density of PV(+) or GAD67(+) neurons and increased SST(+) interneurons in the upper cortical layers. Importantly, 17 beta-estradiol treatment in preterm rabbits increased the number of PV(+) neurons in the upper cortical layers relative to controls at postnatal day 14 (P14) and P21 and transiently reduced SST population at P14. Moreover, protein and mRNA levels of Arx, a key regulator of cortical interneuron maturation and migration, were higher in estrogen-treated rabbits relative to controls. Therefore, deficits in PV(+) and excess of SST(+) neurons in premature newborns are ameliorated by estrogen replacement, which can be attributed to elevated Arx levels. Estrogen replacement might enhance neurodevelopmental outcomes in extremely preterm infants.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Premature birth often leads to neurodevelopmental delays and behavioral disorders, which may be ascribed to disturbances in the development and maturation of cortical interneurons. Here, we show that preterm birth in humans is associated with reduced population of parvalbumin-positive (PV(+)) neurons and an excess of somatostatin-expressing interneurons in the cerebral cortex. More importantly, 17 beta-estradiol treatment increased the number of PV(+) neurons in preterm-born rabbits, which appears to be mediated by an elevation in the expression of Arx transcription factor. Hence the present study highlights prematurity-induced reduction in PV(+) neurons in human infants and reversal in their population by estrogen replacement in preterm rabbits. Because preterm birth drops plasma estrogen level 100-fold, estrogen replacement in extremely preterm infants might improve their developmental outcome and minimize neurobehavioral disorders.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.