OBJECTIVE: To determine whether an elevated fetal umbilical artery Doppler (UAD) pulsatility index (PI) at 28 weeks' gestation, in the absence of fetal growth restriction (FGR) and prematurity, is associated with adverse neurocognitive outcome in children aged 12 years.
METHODS: Prospective cohort study, comparing children with a normal fetal UAD PI (<90th centile) (n=110) and those with an elevated PI (≥90th centile) (n=40). UAD was performed at 28, 32 and 34 weeks gestation. At 12 years of age, all children were assessed under standardised conditions at Queen's University, Belfast, UK to determine cognitive and behavioural outcomes using the British Ability Score-II and Achenbach Child Behavioural Checklist Parent Rated Version under standardised conditions. Regression analysis was performed, controlling for confounders such as gender, socioeconomic status and age at assessment.
RESULTS: The mean age of follow-up was 12.4 years (±0.5 SD) with 44% of children male (n=63). When UAD was assessed at 28 weeks, the elevated fetal UAD group had lower scores in cognitive assessments of information processing and memory. Parameters included (1) recall of objects immediate verbal (p=0.002), (2) delayed verbal (p=0.008) and (3) recall of objects immediate spatial (p=0.0016). There were no significant differences between the Doppler groups at 32 or 34 weeks' gestation.
CONCLUSIONS: An elevated UAD PI at 28 weeks' gestation in the absence of FGR or prematurity is associated with lower scores of declarative memory in children aged 12 years. A potential explanation for this is an element of placental insufficiency in the presence of the appropriately grown fetus, which affects the development of the fetal hippocampus and information processing and memory long-term. These findings, however, had no impact on overall academic ability, mental processing and reasoning or overall behavioural function.