Certain drugs used in premature babies and in pregnant women at risk for preterm deliveries kill brain cells, new animal studies show.A class of steroid drugs called glucocorticoids, which is often used to beef up the underdeveloped lungs of premature infants, irreversibly damages brain cells in the cerebellums of baby mice — the area of the brain responsible for coordination and balance.

Scientists from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis presented their research at this week’s Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington, D.C. They also identified a time frame during which newborn babies’ brains appear most vulnerable to the steroids. In the study, brain cells in mice died after treatments that were given four to 10 days after birth, says study author Kevin Noguchi, a postdoctoral fellow in the university’s department of psychiatry.He says that danger zone translates to human babies from about 20 weeks in the womb to six weeks after birth. Noguchi says other studies have shown that the synthetic steroid — called dexamethasone (usually used postnatally) — causes later motor and cognitive problems in children. Because of that research, in 2002, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that postnatal glucocorticoid use be halted, but the drugs are still used regularly in mothers at risk for early deliveries.Noguchi estimates that about 8% of infants born at a weight of 3.3 pounds or less are still given these drugs. “Thousands of babies a year receive these drugs that can cause damage to the brain,” he says.

The researchers have also studied adolescent mice that were treated with glucocorticoids during early infancy, and reported that a single exposure to the medication permanently damaged the cerebellums of the animals’ brains. Co-author Nuri Farber, an associate professor of psychiatry at Washington University, says other researchers have found dips in the IQs of children who have been given these drugs early in life.

“Our finding might explain why,” Farber says.

There are other types of glucocorticoids that appear to be less toxic and may be safer than the ones commonly used today, Farber says. But he says more research is required.The authors also note that the toxic effects of the steroid drugs they studied do not appear to affect the brains of older babies, children and adults.

“Our studies in mice suggest that once a human infant is a few months old, these drugs — which are used for other medical conditions, too — don’t appear to have this type of toxic effect,” Farber says.

~ by blackcelebritykids on November 19, 2008.


  1. Uh, yeah. Definitely needs more research.

    Physicians/Nurse Practitioners have been using steriods on premies forever in order to promote proper lung function.

    If damage is being done, why have we not seen mental or physical handicaps as they grow?

    Now, as far as the “dips in IQ”, I would think that would be due to the underdevelopment of a premature baby.

    More research please!

  2. Thats unsettling considering my baby was given steroids when she was born prematurely. I hope its not true.

  3. These health topics are a very nice addition to this site. The last one posted about Kidney Stones being linked to lack of water intake was very informative. Since reading that I make sure my daughter drinks a certain amount of water per day. I’m more conscious of it now. I also heard on the radio yesterday that certain carpet cleaning chemicals can cause a rare disease in young children. I forgot the name of the disease, but John Travolta’s daughter has it. One lady called up the radio to give details about it and she said that her granddaughter contracted the disease at 6 months and had to remain under a doctor’s care (specifically for treatment of the disease) up thru the age of 17.

  4. Ok, what a way to rattle my morning. My son was born premature and I was given the steriod solumedrum to stimulate his lung growth – I was supposed to get 2 shots of it but only got 1 because he came before the next shot was given to me. He was born at 31 weeks & he’s 15 months old now and seems perfectly fine, doesn’t seem “uncoordinated” or “unintelligent” in any way so I hope to God this is not to true in the majority of cases and that I don’t have some sort of nightmare to look forward to later. He didn’t get any additional shots of the stuff since he’s been born but you can imagine the alarm I felt after reading this post.
    I would think the human brain is alot more complex than that of mice, so yeah, I would need more information on this before I end up goin’ postal on a hospital.

  5. Hmm I dunno I am grateful for them. My 10 year old brother was born 1lb 6 oz (3 moths premature)and is a healthy happy boy with a few minor obstacles like ADHD and a kidney that works at 10%. But if it weren’t for these drugs I’m sure he wouldn’t be alive

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