Diffusion tensor imaging of brain development

Semin Fetal Neonatal Med. 2006 Dec;11(6):489-97. doi: 10.1016/j.siny.2006.07.006. Epub 2006 Sep 8.


Understanding early human brain development is of great clinical importance, as many neurological and neurobehavioral disorders have their origin in early structural and functional cerebral organization and maturation. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a recent magnetic resonance (MR) modality which assesses water diffusion in biological tissues at a microstructural level, has revealed a powerful technique to explore the structural basis of normal brain development. In fact, the tissue organization can be probed non-invasively, and the age-related changes of diffusion parameters (mean diffusivity, anisotropy) reveal crucial maturational processes, such as white matter myelination. Nevertheless, the developing human brain presents several challenges for DTI applications compared with the adult brain. DTI may further be used to detect brain injury well before conventional MRI, as water diffusion changes are an early indicator of cellular injury. This is particularly critical in infants in the context of administration of neuroprotective therapies. Changes in diffusion characteristics further provide early evidence of both focal and diffuse white matter injury in association with periventricular leukomalacia in the preterm infant. Finally, with the development of 3D fiber tractography, the maturation of white matter connectivity can be followed throughout infant development into adulthood with the potential to study correlations between abnormalities on DTI and ultimate neurologic/cognitive outcome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn / physiology*
  • Leukomalacia, Periventricular / diagnosis