Many preterm infants require extended time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to attain the oromotor coordination necessary for oral feeding, resulting in increased medical costs. Poor oromotor coordination can persist throughout development and has been correlated with speech production difficulties.
The goal of this research is to identify a noninvasive biomarker that accurately predicts infants’ feeding readiness. We will examine the forkhead box protein P2 (FOXP2) gene expression in preterm infants’ saliva. We chose to examine FOXP2 because neurons that express FOXP2 are found in neuronal circuits that are involved in normal speech production and that are essential for successful oral feeding. We will measure feeding progression by recording the number of days required for each infant to reach full oral feeds by mouth.
Thus far, nineteen clinically stable preterm infants (12 males; 7 females), born between 30-34 weeks’ post-menstrual age (PMA) with a birthweight >1500g, have had their saliva samples attained before 35 weeks’ PMA, a critical period for oromotor emergence. We are still enrolling subjects and have yet to complete the final salivary FOXP2 expression analysis. We hypothesize that preterm infants with lower expression of FOXP2 will require more time (days) to attain full oral feeds. Additionally, we hypothesize that preterm males will have a lower expression of FOXP2 compared to females, as males exhibit a greater incidence of speech impairment in later months.
Results from this study have the potential to help identify at-risk infants earlier, allowing for targeted interventions to ensue.