Quantitative in vivo MRI measurement of cortical development in the fetus

Brain Struct Funct. 2012 Jan;217(1):127-39. doi: 10.1007/s00429-011-0325-x. Epub 2011 May 12.


Normal brain development is associated with expansion and folding of the cerebral cortex following a highly orchestrated sequence of gyral-sulcal formation. Although several studies have described the evolution of cerebral cortical development ex vivo or ex utero, to date, very few studies have characterized and quantified the gyrification process for the in vivo fetal brain. Recent advances in fetal magnetic resonance imaging and post-processing computational methods are providing new insights into fetal brain maturation in vivo. In this study, we investigate the in vivo fetal cortical folding pattern in healthy fetuses between 25 and 35 weeks gestational age using 3-D reconstructed fetal cortical surfaces. We describe the in vivo fetal gyrification process using a robust feature extraction algorithm applied directly on the cortical surface, providing an explicit delineation of the sulcal pattern during fetal brain development. We also delineate cortical surface measures, including surface area and gyrification index. Our data support an exuberant third trimester gyrification process and suggest a non-linear evolution of sulcal development. The availability of normative indices of cerebral cortical developing in the living fetus may provide critical insights on the timing and progression of impaired cerebral development in the high-risk fetus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Algorithms*
  • Cerebral Cortex / embryology*
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Fetus / anatomy & histology*
  • Fetus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Pregnancy