The role of heritable factors in determining the common neurologic deficits seen after preterm birth is unknown, but the characteristic phenotype of neurocognitive, neuroanatomical, and growth abnormalities allows principled selection of candidate genes to test the hypothesis that common genetic variation modulates the risk for brain injury.
Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging is increasingly being used to assess brain growth and development in infants. Such studies are often based on quantitative analysis of anatomical segmentations of brain MR images. However, the large changes in brain shape and appearance associated with development, the lower signal to noise ratio and partial volume effects in the neonatal brain present challenges for automatic segmentation of neonatal MR imaging data. In this study, we propose a framework for accurate intensity-based segmentation of the developing neonatal brain, from the early preterm period to term-equivalent age, into 50 brain regions. We present a novel segmentation algorithm that models the intensities across the whole brain by introducing a structural hierarchy and anatomical constraints. The proposed method is compared to standard atlas-based techniques and improves label overlaps with respect to manual reference segmentations. We demonstrate that the proposed technique achieves highly accurate results and is very robust across a wide range of gestational ages, from 24 weeks gestational age to term-equivalent age.
Combining diffusion magnetic resonance imaging and network analysis in the adult human brain has identified a set of highly connected cortical hubs that form a "rich club"--a high-cost, high-capacity backbone thought to enable efficient network communication. Rich-club architecture appears to be a persistent feature of the mature mammalian brain, but it is not known when this structure emerges during human development. In this longitudinal study we chart the emergence of structural organization in mid to late gestation. We demonstrate that a rich club of interconnected cortical hubs is already present by 30 wk gestation. Subsequently, until the time of normal birth, the principal development is a proliferation of connections between core hubs and the rest of the brain. We also consider the impact of environmental factors on early network development, and compare term-born neonates to preterm infants at term-equivalent age. Though rich-club organization remains intact following premature birth, we reveal significant disruptions in both in cortical-subcortical connectivity and short-distance corticocortical connections. Rich club organization is present well before the normal time of birth and may provide the fundamental structural architecture for the subsequent emergence of complex neurological functions. Premature exposure to the extrauterine environment is associated with altered network architecture and reduced network capacity, which may in part account for the high prevalence of cognitive problems in preterm infants.
This review highlights recent work using advanced imaging approaches that have improved our understanding of the underlying neural mechanisms associated with disrupted brain development or demonstrated the potential of MRI to provide objective biomarkers of cerebral injury that relate to subsequent neurodevelopmental performance.
Infants who are born preterm have a high incidence of neurocognitive and neurobehavioral abnormalities, which may be associated with impaired brain development. Advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) approaches, such as diffusion MRI (d-MRI) and functional MRI (fMRI), provide objective and reproducible measures of brain development. Indices derived from d-MRI can be used to provide quantitative measures of preterm brain injury. Although fMRI of the neonatal brain is currently a research tool, future studies combining d-MRI and fMRI have the potential to assess the structural and functional properties of the developing brain and its response to injury.
White matter injury and abnormal maturation are thought to be major contributors to the neurodevelopmental disabilities observed in children and adolescents who were born preterm. Early detection of abnormal white matter maturation is important in the design of preventive, protective, and rehabilitative strategies for the management of the preterm infant. Diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (d-MRI) has become a valuable tool in assessing white matter maturation and injury in survivors of preterm birth. In this review, we aim to (1) describe the basic concepts of d-MRI; (2) evaluate the methods that are currently used to analyse d-MRI; (3) discuss neuroimaging correlates of preterm brain injury observed at term corrected age; during infancy, adolescence and in early adulthood; and (4) explore the relationship between d-MRI measures and subsequent neurodevelopmental performance.
Cortical maturation was studied in 65 infants between 27 and 46 wk postconception using structural and diffusion magnetic resonance imaging. Alterations in neural structure and complexity were inferred from changes in mean diffusivity and fractional anisotropy, analyzed by sampling regions of interest and also by a unique whole-cortex mapping approach. Mean diffusivity was higher in gyri than sulci and in frontal compared with occipital lobes, decreasing consistently throughout the study period. Fractional anisotropy declined until 38 wk, with initial values and rates of change higher in gyri, frontal and temporal poles, and parietal cortex; and lower in sulcal, perirolandic, and medial occipital cortex. Neuroanatomical studies and experimental diffusion-anatomic correlations strongly suggested the interpretation that cellular and synaptic complexity and density increased steadily throughout the period, whereas elongation and branching of dendrites orthogonal to cortical columns was later and faster in higher-order association cortex, proceeding rapidly before becoming undetectable after 38 wk. The rate of microstructural maturation correlated locally with cortical growth, and predicted higher neurodevelopmental test scores at 2 y of age. Cortical microstructural development was reduced in a dose-dependent fashion by longer premature exposure to the extrauterine environment, and preterm infants at term-corrected age possessed less mature cortex than term-born infants. The results are compatible with predictions of the tension theory of cortical growth and show that rapidly developing cortical microstructure is vulnerable to the effects of premature birth, suggesting a mechanism for the adverse effects of preterm delivery on cognitive function.
We studied methods for the automatic segmentation of neonatal and developing brain images into 50 anatomical regions, utilizing a new set of manually segmented magnetic resonance (MR) images from 5 term-born and 15 preterm infants imaged at term corrected age called ALBERTs. Two methods were compared: individual registrations with label propagation and fusion; and template based registration with propagation of a maximum probability neonatal ALBERT (MPNA). In both cases we evaluated the performance of different neonatal atlases and MPNA, and the approaches were compared with the manual segmentations by means of the Dice overlap coefficient. Dice values, averaged across regions, were 0.81±0.02 using label propagation and fusion for the preterm population, and 0.81±0.02 using the single registration of a MPNA for the term population. Segmentations of 36 further unsegmented target images of developing brains yielded visibly high-quality results. This registration approach allows the rapid construction of automatically labeled age-specific brain atlases for neonates and the developing brain.
Microglial activation has been implicated in the pathogenesis of Parkinsons disease (PD) and atypical parkinsonian syndromes, and regional microstructural changes have been identified using diffusion-weighted MR imaging. It is not known how these two phenomena might be connected. We hypothesized that changes in regional apparent diffusion coefficient (rADC) in atypical parkinsonian syndromes would correlate with microglial activation. In our study we have evaluated changes in rADC in 11 healthy controls, 9 patients with PD and 11 with either multiple system atrophy or progressive supranuclear palsy. The patients also underwent [(11)C]-(R)-PK11195 positron emission tomography, a marker of microglial activation. Increased rADC was found compared to controls in the thalamus and midbrain of all parkinsonian patients, and in the putamen, frontal and deep white matter of patients with atypical parkinsonian syndromes. Putaminal rADC alone did not reliably differentiate PD from atypical parkinsonism. There was no correlation between [(11)C]-(R)-PK11195 binding potential and rADC in the basal ganglia in atypical parkinsonian syndromes. However, pontine PK11195 binding and rADC were positively correlated in atypical parkinsonism (r = 0.794, p = 0.0007), but not PD patients. In conclusion, microglial activation does not appear to contribute to the changes in putaminal water diffusivity associated with atypical parkinsonian syndromes, but may correlate with tissue damage in brainstem regions.
Early neuroimaging may provide a surrogate marker for brain development and outcome after preterm birth. Tract-Based Spatial Statistics (TBSS) is an advanced Diffusion Tensor Image (DTI) analysis technique that is sensitive to the effects of prematurity and may provide a quantitative marker for neuroprotection following perinatal brain injury or preterm birth. Here, we test the sensitivity of TBSS to detect diffuse microstructural differences in the developing white matter of preterm infants at term-equivalent age by modelling a treatment effect as a global increase in fractional anisotropy (FA). As proof of concept we compare these simulations to a real effect of increasing age at scan. 3-Tesla, 15-direction diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) was acquired from 90 preterm infants at term-equivalent age. Datasets were randomly assigned to treated or untreated groups of increasing size and voxel-wise increases in FA were used to simulate global treatment effects of increasing magnitude in all treated maps. Treated and untreated FA maps were compared using TBSS. Predictions from simulated data were then compared to exemplar TBSS group comparisons based on increasing postmenstrual age at scan. TBSS proved sensitive to global differences in FA within a clinically relevant range, even in relatively small group sizes, and simulated data were shown to predict well a true biological effect of increasing age on white matter development. These data confirm that TBSS is a sensitive tool for detecting global group-wise differences in FA in this population.
Previous research showed acute diffusion-weighted imaging changes in pulvinar after extensive cortical injury from neonatal stroke. The authors used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to see how separate regions of ipsilateral thalamus are directly affected after a primary hit to their connected cortex in neonatal stroke.
Traumatic brain injury often results in cognitive impairments that limit recovery. The underlying pathophysiology of these impairments is uncertain, which restricts clinical assessment and management. Here, we use magnetic resonance imaging to test the hypotheses that: (i) traumatic brain injury results in abnormalities of functional connectivity within key cognitive networks; (ii) these changes are correlated with cognitive performance; and (iii) functional connectivity within these networks is influenced by underlying changes in structural connectivity produced by diffuse axonal injury. We studied 20 patients in the chronic phase after traumatic brain injury compared with age-matched controls. Network function was investigated in detail using functional magnetic resonance imaging to analyse both regional brain activation, and the interaction of brain regions within a network (functional connectivity). We studied patients during performance of a simple choice-reaction task and at rest. Since functional connectivity reflects underlying structural connectivity, diffusion tensor imaging was used to quantify axonal injury, and test whether structural damage correlated with functional change. The patient group showed typical impairments in information processing and attention, when compared with age-matched controls. Patients were able to perform the task accurately, but showed slow and variable responses. Brain regions activated by the task were similar between the groups, but patients showed greater deactivation within the default mode network, in keeping with an increased cognitive load. A multivariate analysis of resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging was then used to investigate whether changes in network function were present in the absence of explicit task performance. Overall, default mode network functional connectivity was increased in the patient group. Patients with the highest functional connectivity had the least cognitive impairment. In addition, functional connectivity at rest also predicted patterns of brain activation during later performance of the task. As expected, patients showed widespread white matter damage compared with controls. Lower default mode network functional connectivity was seen in those patients with more evidence of diffuse axonal injury within the adjacent corpus callosum. Taken together, our results demonstrate altered patterns of functional connectivity in cognitive networks following injury. The results support a direct relationship between white matter organization within the brains structural core, functional connectivity within the default mode network and cognitive function following brain injury. They can be explained by two related changes: a compensatory increase in functional connectivity within the default mode network; and a variable degree of structural disconnection that modulates this change in network function.
Our aims were to (1) assess the corticospinal tracts (CSTs) in infants with focal injury and healthy term controls using probabilistic tractography and (2) to correlate the conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and tractography findings in infants with focal injury with their later motor function.
Preterm birth is a leading cause of cognitive impairment in childhood and is associated with cerebral gray and white matter abnormalities. Using multimodal image analysis, we tested the hypothesis that altered thalamic development is an important component of preterm brain injury and is associated with other macro- and microstructural alterations. T(1)- and T(2)-weighted magnetic resonance images and 15-direction diffusion tensor images were acquired from 71 preterm infants at term-equivalent age. Deformation-based morphometry, Tract-Based Spatial Statistics, and tissue segmentation were combined for a nonsubjective whole-brain survey of the effect of prematurity on regional tissue volume and microstructure. Increasing prematurity was related to volume reduction in the thalamus, hippocampus, orbitofrontal lobe, posterior cingulate cortex, and centrum semiovale. After controlling for prematurity, reduced thalamic volume predicted: lower cortical volume; decreased volume in frontal and temporal lobes, including hippocampus, and to a lesser extent, parietal and occipital lobes; and reduced fractional anisotropy in the corticospinal tracts and corpus callosum. In the thalamus, reduced volume was associated with increased diffusivity. This demonstrates a significant effect of prematurity on thalamic development that is related to abnormalities in allied brain structures. This suggests that preterm delivery disrupts specific aspects of cerebral development, such as the thalamocortical system.
Medical imaging has shown that, during early development, the brain undergoes more changes in size, shape and appearance than at any other time in life. A better understanding of brain development requires a spatio-temporal atlas that characterizes the dynamic changes during this period. In this paper we present an approach for constructing a 4D atlas of the developing brain, between 28 and 44 weeks post-menstrual age at time of scan, using T1 and T2 weighted MR images from 204 premature neonates. The method used for the creation of the average 4D atlas utilizes non-rigid registration between all pairs of images to eliminate bias in the atlas toward any of the original images. In addition, kernel regression is used to produce age-dependent anatomical templates. A novelty in our approach is the use of a time-varying kernel width, to overcome the variations in the distribution of subjects at different ages. This leads to an atlas that retains a consistent level of detail at every time-point. Comparisons between the resulting atlas and atlases constructed using affine and non-rigid registration are presented. The resulting 4D atlas has greater anatomic definition than currently available 4D atlases created using various affine and non-rigid registration approaches, an important factor in improving registrations between the atlas and individual subjects. Also, the resulting 4D atlas can serve as a good representative of the population of interest as it reflects both global and local changes. The atlas is publicly available at www.brain-development.org.
Our aim was to compare white matter (WM) microstructure in preterm infants with and without punctate WM lesions on MRI using tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) and probabilistic tractography. We studied 23 preterm infants with punctate lesions, median GA at birth 30 (25-35) wk, and 23 GA- and sex-matched preterm controls. TBSS and tractography were performed to assess differences in fractional anisotropy (FA) between the two groups at term equivalent age. The impact of lesion load was assessed by performing linear regression analysis of the number of lesions on term MRI versus FA in the corticospinal tracts in the punctate lesions group. FA values were significantly lower in the posterior limb of the internal capsule, cerebral peduncles, decussation of the superior cerebellar peduncles, superior cerebellar peduncles, and pontine crossing tract in the punctate lesions group. There was a significant negative correlation between lesion load at term and FA in the corticospinal tracts (p = 0.03, adjusted r² = 0.467). In conclusion, punctate lesions are associated with altered microstructure in the WM fibers of the corticospinal tract at term equivalent age.
White matter disruption is an important determinant of cognitive impairment after brain injury, but conventional neuroimaging underestimates its extent. In contrast, diffusion tensor imaging provides a validated and sensitive way of identifying the impact of axonal injury. The relationship between cognitive impairment after traumatic brain injury and white matter damage is likely to be complex. We applied a flexible technique-tract-based spatial statistics-to explore whether damage to specific white matter tracts is associated with particular patterns of cognitive impairment. The commonly affected domains of memory, executive function and information processing speed were investigated in 28 patients in the post-acute/chronic phase following traumatic brain injury and in 26 age-matched controls. Analysis of fractional anisotropy and diffusivity maps revealed widespread differences in white matter integrity between the groups. Patients showed large areas of reduced fractional anisotropy, as well as increased mean and axial diffusivities, compared with controls, despite the small amounts of cortical and white matter damage visible on standard imaging. A stratified analysis based on the presence or absence of microbleeds (a marker of diffuse axonal injury) revealed diffusion tensor imaging to be more sensitive than gradient-echo imaging to white matter damage. The location of white matter abnormality predicted cognitive function to some extent. The structure of the fornices was correlated with associative learning and memory across both patient and control groups, whilst the structure of frontal lobe connections showed relationships with executive function that differed in the two groups. These results highlight the complexity of the relationships between white matter structure and cognition. Although widespread and, sometimes, chronic abnormalities of white matter are identifiable following traumatic brain injury, the impact of these changes on cognitive function is likely to depend on damage to key pathways that link nodes in the distributed brain networks supporting high-level cognitive functions.
The functions of the resting state networks (RSNs) revealed by functional MRI remain unclear, but it has seemed possible that networks emerge in parallel with the development of related cognitive functions. We tested the alternative hypothesis: that the full repertoire of resting state dynamics emerges during the period of rapid neural growth before the normal time of birth at term (around 40 wk of gestation). We used a series of independent analytical techniques to map in detail the development of different networks in 70 infants born between 29 and 43 wk of postmenstrual age (PMA). We characterized and charted the development of RSNs from recognizable but often fragmentary elements at 30 wk of PMA to full facsimiles of adult patterns at term. Visual, auditory, somatosensory, motor, default mode, frontoparietal, and executive control networks developed at different rates; however, by term, complete networks were present, several of which were integrated with thalamic activity. These results place the emergence of RSNs largely during the period of rapid neural growth in the third trimester of gestation, suggesting that they are formed before the acquisition of cognitive competencies in later childhood.
Biomarkers are required for efficient trials of neuroprotective interventions after perinatal asphyxia. This study aimed to determine whether diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) analyzed by tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) may be a suitable biomarker of disease and treatment effects after perinatal asphyxia in small groups of patients. We performed TBSS from DTI obtained at 3 T from eight healthy control infants, 10 untreated and 10 hypothermia-treated infants with neonatal encephalopathy. Median (range) postnatal age at scan was 1 d (1-21) in the healthy infants, 6 d (4-20) in the cooled, and 7 d (4-18) in noncooled infants. Compared with the control group, fractional anisotropy (FA) was significantly reduced not only in several white matter tracts in the noncooled infants but also in the internal capsule in the cooled group. Noncooled infants had significantly lower FA than the cooled treated infants, indicating more extensive damage, in the anterior and posterior limbs of the internal capsule, the corpus callosum, and optic radiations. We conclude that perinatal hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy is associated with widespread white matter abnormalities that are reduced by moderate hypothermia. DTI analyzed by TBSS detects this treatment effect and is therefore a qualified biomarker for the early evaluation of neuroprotective interventions.
Probabilistic atlases are widely used in the neuroscience community as a tool for providing a standard space for comparison of subjects and as tissue priors used to enhance the intensity-based classification of brain MRI. Most efforts so far have focused on static brain atlases either for adult or pediatric cohorts. In contrast to the adult brain the rapid growth of the neonatal brain requires an age-specific spatial probabilistic atlas to provide suitable anatomical and structural information. In this paper we describe a 4D probabilistic atlas that allows dynamic generation of prior tissue probability maps for any chosen stage of neonatal brain development between 29 and 44 gestational weeks. The atlas is created from the segmentations of 142 neonatal subjects at different ages using a kernel-based regression method and provides prior tissue probability maps for six structures - cortex, white matter, subcortical grey matter, brainstem, cerebellum and cerebro-spinal fluid. The atlas is publicly available at www.brain-development.org.
Preterm birth is associated with altered white matter microstructure, defined by metrics derived from diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). Tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) is a useful tool for investigating developing white matter using DTI, but standard TBSS protocols have limitations for neonatal studies. We describe an optimised TBSS protocol for neonatal DTI data, in which registration errors are reduced. As chronic lung disease (CLD) is an independent risk factor for abnormal white matter development, we investigate the effect of this condition on white matter anisotropy and diffusivity using the optimised protocol in a proof of principle experiment. DTI data were acquired from 93 preterm infants (48 male) with a median gestational age at birth of 28(+5) (23(+4)-35(+2))weeks at a median postmenstrual age at scan of 41(+4) (38(+1)-46(+6))weeks. Nineteen infants developed CLD, defined as requiring supplemental oxygen at 36weeks postmenstrual age. TBSS was modified to include an initial low degrees-of-freedom linear registration step and a second registration to a population-average FA map. The additional registration steps reduced global misalignment between neonatal fractional anisotropy (FA) maps. Infants with CLD had significantly increased radial diffusivity (RD) and significantly reduced FA within the centrum semiovale, corpus callosum and inferior longitudinal fasciculus (p<0.05) compared to their peers, controlling for degree of prematurity and age at scan. The optimised TBSS protocol improved reliability for neonatal DTI analysis. These data suggest that potentially modifiable respiratory morbidity is associated with widespread altered white matter microstructure in preterm infants at term-equivalent age.
Magnetic resonance imaging of the brain is invaluable in assessing the neonate who presents with encephalopathy. Successful imaging requires adaptations to both the hardware and sequences used for adults. Knowledge of the perinatal and postnatal details are essential for the correct interpretation of the imaging findings. Perinatal lesions are at their most obvious on conventional imaging between 1 and 2weeks from delivery. Very early imaging is useful to guide management in ventilated neonates but abnormalities may be subtle on conventional sequences. Diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) is clinically useful for the early identification of ischaemic tissue in the neonatal brain, the pattern of which can predict outcome. DWI may underestimate the final extent of injury, particularly basal ganglia and thalamic lesions. Serial imaging with quantification of both tissue damage and structure size provides invaluable insights into the effects of perinatal injury on the developing brain.
Periventricular leucomalacia (PVL) and parenchymal venous infarction complicating germinal matrix/intraventricular haemorrhage have long been recognised as the two significant white matter diseases responsible for the majority of cases of cerebral palsy in survivors of preterm birth. However, more recent studies using magnetic resonance imaging to assess the preterm brain have documented two new appearances, adding to the spectrum of white matter disease of prematurity: punctate white matter lesions, and diffuse excessive high signal intensity (DEHSI). These appear to be more common than PVL but less significant in terms of their impact on individual neurodevelopment. They may, however, be associated with later cognitive and behavioural disorders known to be common following preterm birth. It remains unclear whether PVL, punctate lesions, and DEHSI represent a continuum of disorders occurring as a result of a similar injurious process to the developing white matter. This review discusses the role of MR imaging in investigating these three disorders in terms of aetiology, pathology, and outcome.
MRI is invaluable in assessing the neonatal brain following suspected perinatal injury. Good quality imaging requires adaptations to both the hardware and the sequences used for adults or older children. The perinatal and postnatal details often predict the pattern of lesions sustained and should be available to aid interpretation of the imaging findings. Perinatal lesions, the pattern of which can predict neurodevelopmental outcome, are at their most obvious on conventional imaging between 1 and 2 weeks from birth. Very early imaging during the first week may be useful to make management decisions in ventilated neonates but brain abnormalities may still be subtle using conventional sequences. Diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) is very useful for the early identification of ischaemic tissue in the neonatal brain but may underestimate the final extent of injury, particularly basal ganglia and thalamic lesions. MR imaging is an excellent predictor of outcome following perinatal brain injury and can therefore be used as a biomarker in interventional trials designed to reduce injury and improve neurodevelopmental outcome.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is noninvasive and nonionizing and offers excellent soft-tissue contrast and good spatial resolution, providing anatomical detail that cannot be obtained by any other imaging modality. In this review, we discuss the imaging findings in perinatal arterial stroke, hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, metabolic abnormalities, and infection. Conventional imaging can detect patterns of injury that relate to the etiology and timing of an insult and provide valuable information about prognosis. In many cases, diffusion-weighted imaging provides additional information to conventional MRI, and we recommend its use in all clinical MRI investigations. We also consider the utility of tools such as functional MRI, diffusion tensor imaging, and diffusion tractography in the neonatal population.
The cerebral ultrasound has been used many years for the diagnosis of brain lesions in term and preterm newborns. Major improvements were obtained by the combination of different imaging modalities such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging with the Diffusion Weighted Imaging (DWI) and the new quantitative Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI). The clinical use of MRI has been validated over some years especially to depict the perinatal asphyxia lesions in term newborns, but its use in order to diagnose the typical diseases of preterm babies is very recent and useful in identifying a marker able to predict neurological outcome. The imaging correlates for motor impairment are well recognized (periventricular white matter cavitations), but no any imaging correlate for cognitive impairment and neurobehavioral disorders. While DWI has been used in term newborns to identify the ischemic areas with restricted diffusion, it may be also used to characterize brain development in preterm infants with the Apparent Diffusion Coefficient (ADC) and may allow us to detect abnormalities responsible for the non-motor impairments. Recent datas showed that in infants without focal lesions higher ADC values in WM were associated with poorer neurodevelopmental assessment at 2 years. The DTI also allows to detect the Fractional Anisotropy (FA) that measures the microstructure. DTI can also be used to map the WM tracts in the immature brain and may be applied to understand the normal development or the response of the brain to injury. Some WM regions in the preterm brain have a lower FA suggesting that widespread WM abnormalities are present in preterms even in the absence of focal lesions. The complexity of the developing brain can be explained by the new tractography that can assess the connectivity of different WM regions and the association between structure and function, such as optic radiations microstructure and visual assessment score. Technological advances in neonatal brain imaging have made a major contribution to understand the neurobehavioral disorders of the developing brain that have the origin in the early structural cerebral organization and maturation.
Preterm infants have a high incidence of neurodevelopmental impairment associated with diffuse cerebral white matter abnormalities and also a high incidence of serious respiratory disease. However, it is unclear if lung disease and brain injury are related, and previous research has been impeded by confounding effects, including prematurity and infection. Using a new approach that permits multivariate statistical analysis, we tested the hypothesis that lung disease is associated with specific white matter abnormalities, detected as reduced fractional anisotropy (FA) in diffusion tensor imaging data.
We present a methodology to achieve 3D high-resolution diffusion tensor image reconstruction of the brain in moving subjects. The source data is diffusion-sensitized single-shot echo-planar images. After continuous scanning to acquire a repeated series of parallel slices with 15 diffusion directions, image registration is used to realign the images to correct for subject motion. Once aligned, the diffusion images are treated as irregularly-sampled data where each voxel is associated with an appropriately rotated diffusion direction. This data is used to estimate the diffusion tensor on a regular grid. The method has been tested on data acquired at 1.5T from adults who deliberately moved and from eight fetuses imaged in utero. Maps of apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) were reliably produced in all cases and promising performance was achieved for fractional anisotropy maps. Results from normal fetal brains were found to be consistent with published data from premature infants of similar gestational age.
We have shown previously that the degree of prematurity affects cortical surface area growth. We now addressed the question whether cortical surface area growth after preterm birth is predicted by the severity of peri- and postnatal illness.
Defining connectivity in the human brain signifies a major neuroscientific goal. Advanced imaging techniques have enabled the non-invasive tracing of brain networks to define the human connectome on a millimetre-scale. During early development, the brain undergoes significant changes that are likely represented in the developing connectome, and preterm birth represents a significant environmental risk factor that impacts negatively on early cerebral development. Using tractography to comprehensively map the connections of the thalamocortical unit, we aim to demonstrate that premature extrauterine life due to preterm delivery results in significantly decreased thalamocortical connectivity in the developing human neonate.
The thalamus undergoes significant volume loss and microstructural change with increasing age. Alterations in thalamo-cortical connectivity may contribute to the decline in cognitive ability associated with aging. The aim of this study was to assess changes in thalamic shape and in the volume and diffusivity of thalamic regions parcellated by their connectivity to specific cortical regions in order to test the hypothesis age related thalamic change primarily affects thalamic nuclei connecting to the frontal cortex. Using structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), we assessed thalamic volume and diffusivity in 86 healthy volunteers, median (range) age 44 (20-74) years. Regional thalamic micro and macro structural changes were assessed by segmenting the thalamus based on connectivity to the frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital cortices and determining the volumes and mean diffusivity of the thalamic projections. Linear regression analysis was performed to test the relationship between increasing age and (i) normalised thalamic volume, (ii) whole thalamus diffusion measures, (iii) mean diffusivity (MD) of the thalamo-cortical projections, and (iv) volumes of the thalamo-cortical projections. We also assessed thalamic shape change using vertex analysis. We observed a significant reduction in the volume and a significant increase in MD of the whole thalamus with increasing age. The volume of the thalamo-frontal projections decreased significantly with increasing age, however there was no significant relationship between the volumes of the thalamo-cortical projections to the parietal, temporal, and occipital cortex and age. Thalamic shape analysis showed that the greatest shape change was in the anterior thalamus, incorporating regions containing the anterior nucleus, the ventroanterior nucleus and the dorsomedial nucleus. To explore these results further we studied two additional groups of subjects (a younger and an older aged group, n=20), which showed that the volume of the thalamo-frontal projections was correlated to executive functions scores, as assessed by the Stroop test. These data suggest that atrophy of the frontal thalamo-cortical unit may explain, at least in part, disorders of attention, working memory and executive function associated with increasing age.
In the rodent brain the hemodynamic response to a brief external stimulus changes significantly during development. Analogous changes in human infants would complicate the determination and use of the hemodynamic response function (HRF) for functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in developing populations. We aimed to characterize HRF in human infants before and after the normal time of birth using rapid sampling of the blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signal. A somatosensory stimulus and an event related experimental design were used to collect data from 10 healthy adults, 15 sedated infants at term corrected post menstrual age (PMA) (median 41+1 weeks), and 10 preterm infants (median PMA 34+4 weeks). A positive amplitude HRF waveform was identified across all subject groups, with a systematic maturational trend in terms of decreasing time-to-peak and increasing positive peak amplitude associated with increasing age. Application of the age-appropriate HRF models to fMRI data significantly improved the precision of the fMRI analysis. These findings support the notion of a structured development in the brains response to stimuli across the last trimester of gestation and beyond.
Premature birth is a major and growing problem. Investigations into neuroanatomical correlates and consequences of preterm birth are hampered by complex neonatal brain anatomy and unavailability of atlases and protocols covering the whole brain. We developed delineation protocols for the manual segmentation of cerebral magnetic resonance (MR) images from newborn infants into 50 regions with comprehensive coverage of the brain. We then segmented MR scans from 15 infants born preterm at median 29, range 26-35, weeks postmenstrual age and scanned at term-corrected age, and five term-born infants born at median 41, range 39-45, weeks postmenstrual age. Total and regional brain volumes were estimated in each infant, and regional volumes expressed as a fraction of total brain volume. Total brain volumes were higher with greater age at birth and at time of scan, but once corrected for age at scan there was no difference between preterm and term infants. Fractional age-corrected regional volumes were bigger unilaterally in terms in middle and inferior temporal gyri, anterior temporal lobe, fusiform gyrus and posterior cingulate gyrus. Fractional age-corrected regional volumes were larger in preterms bilaterally in hippocampus, amygdala, thalamus and lateral ventricles, left superior temporal gyrus and right caudate nucleus. These differences were not significant after correcting for multiple hypothesis testing, but suggest subtle differences between preterms and term-borns accessible to regional analysis. Detailed illustrated protocols are made available in the Appendix.
INTRODUCTION: Visual impairment in preterm infants at term equivalent age (TEA) is associated with impaired microstructural development in the optic radiation, measured as reduced fractional anisotropy (FA) by Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI). We tested the hypothesis that these abnormalities develop during the late preterm period. METHODS: DTI was performed in 53 infants born at a median (range) of 30(+1) (25(+4)-34(+6)) weeks post-menstrual age (PMA), 22 of whom were imaged twice. RESULTS: FA in the optic radiation at TEA was related to: visual function (p = .003); PMA at birth (p = .015); and PMA at scan (p = .008); while a significant interaction between PMA at birth and scan (p = .019) revealed an effect of the period of premature extra-uterine life additional to the degree of prematurity. We explored this further in a sub-group of 22 infants who were studied twice. FA increased from mean (95% CI) .174 (.164-.176) on the first image at 32(+5) (29(+5)-36) weeks PMA, to .198 (.190-.206) on the second image at 40(+6) (39(+2)-46) weeks PMA. Visual function was not predicted by FA on the images obtained in the early neonatal period, but was significantly related to the rate of increase in FA between scans (p = .027) and to FA on the second image (p = .015). CONCLUSION: Microstructural maturation during the late preterm period is thus required for normal visual function, suggesting that interventions applied after 30 weeks PMA might reduce impairment in preterm infants.
Objective biomarkers are needed to assess neuroprotective therapies after perinatal hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). We tested the hypothesis that, in infants who underwent therapeutic hypothermia after perinatal HIE, neurodevelopmental performance was predicted by fractional anisotropy (FA) values in the white matter (WM) on early diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) as assessed by means of tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS).
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