Background: Studies for infants are usually hindered by the insufficient image contrast, especially for neonates. Prior knowledge, in the form of atlas, can provide additional guidance for the data processing such as spatial normalization, label propagation, and tissue segmentation. Although it is highly desired, there is currently no such infant atlas which caters for all these applications. The reason may be largely due to the dramatic early brain development, image processing difficulties, and the need of a large sample size.
Methodology: To this end, after several years of subject recruitment and data acquisition, we have collected a unique longitudinal dataset, involving 95 normal infants (56 males and 39 females) with MRI scanned at 3 ages, i.e., neonate, 1-year-old, and 2-year-old. State-of-the-art MR image segmentation and registration techniques were employed, to construct which include the templates (grayscale average images), tissue probability maps (TPMs), and brain parcellation maps (i.e., meaningful anatomical regions of interest) for each age group. In addition, the longitudinal correspondences between age-specific atlases were also obtained. Experiments of typical infant applications validated that the proposed atlas outperformed other atlases and is hence very useful for infant-related studies.
Conclusions: We expect that the proposed infant 0-1-2 brain atlases would be significantly conducive to structural and functional studies of the infant brains. These atlases are publicly available in our website, http://bric.unc.edu/ideagroup/free-softwares/.