Early adolescence is a time of rapid change in neuroanatomy and sexual development. Precision in tracking changes in brain morphology with structural MRI requires image segmentation with minimal error. Here, we compared two approaches to achieve segmentation by image registration with an atlas to quantify regional brain structural development over a 7-month interval in normal, early adolescent boys and girls. Adolescents were scanned twice (average interval=7.3 months), yielding adequate data for analysis in 16 boys (baseline age 10.9 to 13.9 years; Tanner Stage=1 to 4) and 12 girls (baseline age=11.2 to 13.7 years; Tanner Stage=3 to 4). Brain volumes were derived from T1-weighted (SPGR) images and dual-echo Fast Spin-Echo (FSE) images collected on a GE 3T scanner with an 8-channel phased-array head coil and analyzed by registration-based parcellation using the SRI24 atlas. The "independent" method required two inter-subject registrations: both baseline (MRI 1) to atlas and follow-up (MRI 2) to the atlas. The "sequential" method required one inter-subject registration, which was MRI 1 to the atlas, and one intra-subject registration, which was MRI 2 to MRI 1. Gray matter/white matter/CSF were segmented in both MRI-1 and MRI-2 using FSL FAST with tissue priors also based on the SRI24 atlas. Gray matter volumes were derived for 10 cortical regions, gray+white matter volumes for 5 subcortical structures, and CSF volumes for 4 ventricular regions and the cortical sulci. Across the 15 tissue regions, the coefficient of variation (CV) of change scores across individuals was significantly lower for the sequential method (CV=3.02), requiring only one inter-subject registration, than for the independent method (CV=9.43), requiring two inter-subject registrations. Volume change based on the sequential method revealed that total supratentorial and CSF volumes increased, while cortical gray matter volumes declined significantly (p<0.01) in anterior (lateral and medial frontal, anterior cingulate, precuneus, and parietal) but not posterior (occipital, calcarine) cortical regions. These volume changes occurred in all boys and girls who advanced a step in Tanner staging. Subcortical structures did not show consistent changes. Thus, longitudinal MRI assessment using robust registration methods is sufficiently sensitive to identify significant regional brain changes over a 7-month interval in boys and girls in early adolescence. Increasing the temporal resolution of the retest interval in longitudinal developmental studies could increase accuracy in timing of peak growth of regional brain tissue and refine our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying the dynamic changes in brain structure throughout adolescence.
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