Purpose: To establish quantitative standards for age-related changes in diffusion restriction of cerebral white matter in healthy children and to compare data with results in children with white matter diseases.
Materials and methods: Diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance (MR) imaging was performed in 44 children (age range, 7 days to 7.5 years) without brain abnormalities and in 13 children with proved leukodystrophy. Apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) and apparent anisotropy (AA) were measured in 11 regions of interest within white matter. Age-related changes were analyzed with regression analysis.
Results: During normal brain myelination, ADCs in different anatomic regions were high at birth (range, 1.04 x 10(-9) m(2)/sec +/- 0.05 [SD] to 1.64 x 10(-9) m(2)/sec +/- 0.09) and low after brain maturation (range, 0.75 x 10(-9) m(2)/sec +/- 0.02 to 0.92 x 10(-9) m(2)/sec +/- 0.02). AA was low at birth (range, 0.05 +/- 0.01 to 0.52 +/- 0.04) and high after brain maturation (range, 0.25 +/- 0.02 to 0.85 +/- 0.03). Age relationship could be expressed with monoexponential functions for all anatomic regions. Anisotropy preceded the myelination-related changes at MR imaging. ADC and AA in four children with Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease were identical with results in healthy newborn children and showed no age dependency. In peroxisomal disorders, Krabbe disease, and mitochondriopathy, demyelination on T1- and T2-weighted MR images led to expected findings at diffusion-weighted MR imaging, with high ADC and low AA, whereas in Canavan disease and metachromatic leukodystrophy, the opposite findings were revealed, with low ADC within the demyelinated white matter.
Conclusion: During early brain myelination, diffusion restriction in normal white matter increases. Anisotropy precedes myelination changes that are visible at MR imaging. Compared with T1- and T2-weighted MR imaging, diffusion-weighted MR imaging in white matter diseases reveals additional information.