Quantitative diffusion tensor MRI fiber tractography of sensorimotor white matter development in premature infants

Jeffrey I Berman, Pratik Mukherjee, Savannah C Partridge, Steven P Miller, Donna M Ferriero, A James Barkovich, Daniel B Vigneron, Roland G Henry
NeuroImage 2005 October 1, 27 (4): 862-71
Diffusion tensor MRI (DTI) fiber tracking is the first non-invasive and in vivo technique for the delineation and quantitation of specific white matter pathways. In this study, quantitative fiber tracking was used to assess the structural development of the motor tract and somatosensory radiation in premature human newborns. These pathways are unmyelinated in the youngest premature infants and begin to myelinate during late preterm maturation. Previous studies have only been able to delineate parts of these pathways that could be manually outlined in 2D based on anatomical landmarks. Furthermore, these previous studies could not separate motor and sensory regions. A high-sensitivity neonatal head coil was employed in conjunction with an MR-compatible incubator to perform high-resolution imaging of the premature infant brain. The motor and somatosensory tracts were successfully delineated with 3D DTI fiber tracking in 37 exams of preterm newborns between 28 and 43 weeks gestational age. Both streamline deterministic and probabilistic methods were employed to perform quantitative fiber tractography. Tract-specific measurements of diffusion parameters including fractional anisotropy, directionally averaged diffusivity, and eigenvalues were obtained from the motor and sensory pathways. Using both deterministic and probabilistic fiber tracking, all tract-specific diffusion parameters were found to be significantly correlated with age and the motor tracts were found to have higher anisotropy and lower diffusivity than the sensory pathway. By segmenting the 3D fiber tracks by slice, measurements from different axial levels of the brain were found to vary with region and age. In summary, deterministic and probabilistic DTI fiber tracking methods were used to quantify the developmental changes of motor and somatosensory pathways in premature infants.

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