White matter (WM) injury, once known primarily in preterm newborns, is emerging in its non-focal (diffused), non-necrotic form as a critical component of subtle brain injuries in many early-life diseases like prematurity, intrauterine growth restriction, congenital heart defects, and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. While advances in medical techniques have reduced the number of severe outcomes, the incidence of tardive impairments in complex cognitive functions or psychopathology remains high, with lifelong detrimental effects. The importance of WM in coordinating neuronal assemblies firing and neural groups synchronizing within multiple frequency bands through myelination, even mild alterations in WM structure, may interfere with the cognitive performance that increasing social and learning demands would exploit tardively during children growth. This phenomenon may contribute to explaining longitudinally the high incidence of late-appearing impairments that affect children with a history of perinatal insults. Furthermore, WM abnormalities have been highlighted in several neuropsychiatric disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. In this review, we gather and organize evidence on how diffused WM injuries contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders through different perinatal diseases and insults. An insight into a possible common, cross-disease, mechanism, neuroimaging and monitoring, biomarkers, and neuroprotective strategies will also be presented.
- White matter
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