Sooraj Shah ’24
Premature births occur in nearly 1 in every 10 cases in the United States, which can lead to numerous diverse health effects in the future. Two neurotrophic proteins which are responsible for the survival of neurons, Nerve Growth Factor(NGF) and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor(BDNF), are crucial for the development of the peripheral and central nervous systems. NGFs and BDNFs are critical for pre/postnatal development, and may be linked with future neurological disorders. Urine contains all the molecules that cross the hematoencephalic barrier(barrier between blood and brain), so it reflects changes in the brain and contains NGF and BDNF proteins. A study done by the University of Perugia in Italy utilized urine collection to explore this phenomenon by measuring urinary levels in newborns 30-40 days after birth, correlating NGF and BDNF levels with later neurological outcome.
The studied population consisted of 43 newborns which were observed over a period of 2 years. The newborns were divided into three groups: pre-term(premature), full-term(normal), and intrauterine growth restricted(IUGR – slow growth). Urine was collected 30-40 days after birth, leukocyte and nitrile levels were measured to eliminate possible infections, and levels of NGF and BDNF were measured. 2 years later, the children’s neurological development was assessed by experienced psychologists and neurologists with expertise in neuronal-development.
The results yielded a strong correlation between NGF levels and brain volume as well as birth weight. NGF levels were much higher for full-term newborns than preterm and IUGRs. NGF levels and birth weight were shown to have a direct relationship. BDNF levels, on the other hand, did not have a significant correlation, possibly because of its short half-life within the bloodstream. The results showed that both low NGF levels and birth weight may highlight individuals with possible long term hindering of motor and cognitive function.
The connection between NGF levels, brain growth, and birth weight exhibits a strong association to the development of postnatal neurological disorders. This study was the first of its kind to find a correlation between NGF and brain growth levels during the postnatal period with laterneuro-developmental outcomes. This expands the possibility of treating these neurological disorders with early detection in future research.
 M. C. Aisa, et. al., Urinary Nerve Growth Factor in full-term, preterm and intrauterine growth restriction neonates, ScienceDirect, (2020). doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2020.135459