Diffusion tensor imaging with tract-based spatial statistics reveals local white matter abnormalities in preterm infants

Neuroimage. 2007 Apr 15;35(3):1021-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.01.035. Epub 2007 Feb 8.


Infants born preterm have a high incidence of neurodevelopmental impairment in later childhood, often associated with poorly defined cerebral white matter abnormalities. Diffusion tensor imaging quantifies the diffusion of water within tissues and can assess microstructural abnormalities in the developing preterm brain. Tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) is an automated observer-independent method of aligning fractional anisotropy (FA) images from multiple subjects to allow groupwise comparisons of diffusion tensor imaging data. We applied TBSS to test the hypothesis that preterm infants have reduced fractional anisotropy in specific regions of white matter compared to term-born controls. We studied 26 preterm infants with no evidence of focal lesions on conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at term equivalent age and 6 healthy term-born control infants. We found that the centrum semiovale, frontal white matter and the genu of the corpus callosum showed significantly lower FA in the preterm group. Infants born at less than or equal to 28 weeks gestational age (n=11) displayed additional reductions in FA in the external capsule, the posterior aspect of the posterior limb of the internal capsule and the isthmus and middle portion of the body of the corpus callosum. This study demonstrates that TBSS provides an observer-independent method of identifying white matter abnormalities in the preterm brain at term equivalent age in the absence of focal lesions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / pathology*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Demyelinating Diseases / pathology*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / pathology*
  • Male
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / pathology*
  • Neural Pathways / pathology*