In the search for a useful parameter to detect and quantify subtle brain abnormalities in infants with intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), we hypothesised that the analysis of the structural complexity of grey matter (GM) and white matter (WM) using the fractal dimension (FD), a measurement of the topological complexity of an object, could be established as a useful tool for quantitative studies of infant brain morphology. We studied a sample of 18 singleton IUGR premature infants, (12.72 months corrected age (CA), range: 12 months-14 months), 15 preterm infants matched one-to-one for gestational age (GA) at delivery (12.6 months; range: 12 months-14 months), and 15 neonates born at term (12.4 months; range: 11 months-14 months). The neurodevelopmental outcome was assessed in all subjects at 18 months CA according to the Bayley Scale for Infant and Toddler Development - Third edition (BSID-III). For MRI acquisition and processing, the infants were scanned at 12 months CA, in a TIM TRIO 3T scanner, sleeping naturally. Images were pre-processed using the SPM5 toolbox, the GM and WM segmented under the VBM5 toolbox, and the box-counting method was applied for FD calculation of normal and skeletonized segmented images. The results showed a significant decrease of the FD of the brain GM and WM in the IUGR group when compared to the preterm or at-term controls. We also identified a significant linear tendency of both GM and WM FD from IUGR to preterm and term groups. Finally, multiple linear analyses between the FD of the GM or WM and the neurodevelopmental scales showed a significant regression of the language and motor scales with the FD of the GM. In conclusion, a decreased FD of the GM and WM in IUGR infants could be a sensitive indicator for the investigation of structural brain abnormalities in the IUGR population at 12 months of age, which can also be related to functional disorders.
The fractal dimension (FD) is a quantitative parameter that characterizes the morphometric variability of a complex object. Among other applications, FD has been used to identify abnormalities of the human brain in conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), including white matter abnormalities in patients with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Extensive grey matter (GM) pathology has been recently identified in MS and it appears to be a key factor in long-term disability. The aim of the present work was to assess whether FD measurement of GM in T1 MRI sequences can identify GM abnormalities in patients with MS in the early phase of the disease. A voxel-based morphometry approach optimized for MS was used to obtain the segmented brain, where we later calculated the three-dimensional FD of the GM in MS patients and healthy controls. We found that patients with MS had a significant increase in the FD of the GM compared to controls. Such differences were present even in patients with short disease durations, including patients with first attacks of MS. In addition, the FD of the GM correlated with T1 and T2 lesion load, but not with GM atrophy or disability. The FD abnormalities of the GM here detected differed from the previously published FD of the white matter in MS, suggesting that different pathological processes were taking place in each structure. These results indicate that GM morphology is abnormal in patients with MS and that this alteration appears early in the course of the disease.
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