Assessment of the early organization and maturation of infants' cerebral white matter fiber bundles: a feasibility study using quantitative diffusion tensor imaging and tractography

J Dubois, L Hertz-Pannier, G Dehaene-Lambertz, Y Cointepas, D Le Bihan
NeuroImage 2006 May 1, 30 (4): 1121-32
The human infant is particularly immature at birth and brain maturation, with the myelination of white matter fibers, is protracted until adulthood. Diffusion tensor imaging offers the possibility to describe non invasively the fascicles spatial organization at an early stage and to follow the cerebral maturation with quantitative parameters that might be correlated with behavioral development. Here, we assessed the feasibility to study the organization and maturation of major white matter bundles in eighteen 1- to 4-month-old healthy infants, using a specific acquisition protocol customized to the immature brain (with 15 orientations of the diffusion gradients and a 700 s mm(-2)b factor). We were able to track most of the main fascicles described at later ages despite the low anisotropy of the infant white matter, using the FACT algorithm. This mapping allows us to propose a new method of quantification based on reconstructed tracts, split between specific regions, which should be more sensitive to specific changes in a bundle than the conventional approach, based on regions-of-interest. We observed variations in fractional anisotropy and mean diffusivity over the considered developmental period in most bundles (corpus callosum, cerebellar peduncles, cortico-spinal tract, spino-thalamic tract, capsules, radiations, longitudinal and uncinate fascicles, cingulum). The results are in good agreement with the known stages of white matter maturation and myelination, and the proposed approach might provide important insights on brain development.

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