Functional correlates of central white matter maturation in perinatal period in rabbits

Exp Neurol. 2014 Nov:261:76-86. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2014.06.021. Epub 2014 Jul 2.


Anisotropy indices derived from diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) are being increasingly used as biomarkers of central WM structural maturation, myelination and even functional development. Our hypothesis was that the rate of functional changes in central WM tracts directly reflects rate of changes in structural development as determined by DTI indices. We examined structural and functional development of four major central WM tracts with different maturational trajectories, including internal capsule (IC), corpus callosum (CC), fimbria hippocampi (FH) and anterior commissure (AC). Rabbits were chosen due to perinatal brain development being similar to humans, and four time points were studied: P1, P11, P18 and adults. Imaging parameters of structural maturation included fractional anisotropy (FA), mean and directional diffusivities derived from DTI, and T2 relaxation time. Axonal composition and degree of myelination were confirmed on electron microscopy. To assess functional maturation, conduction velocity was measured in myelinated and non-myelinated fibers by electrophysiological recordings of compound action potential in perfused brain slices. Diffusion indices and T2 relaxation time in rabbits followed a sigmoid curve during development similar to that for humans, with active changes even at premyelination stage. The shape of the developmental curve was different between the fiber tracts, with later onset but steeper rapid phase of development in IC and FH than in CC. The structural development was not directly related to myelination or to functional development. Functional properties in projection (IC) and limbic tracts (FH) matured earlier than in associative and commissural tracts (CC and AC). The rapid phase of changes in diffusion anisotropy and T2 relaxation time coincided with the development of functional responses and myelination in IC and FH between the second and third weeks of postnatal development in rabbits. In these two tracts, MRI indices could serve as surrogate markers of the early stage of myelination. However, the discordance between developmental change of diffusion indices, myelination and functional properties in CC and AC cautions against equating DTI index changes as biomarkers for myelination in all tracts.

Keywords: Brain development; Conduction velocity; Diffusion tensor imaging; White matter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Central Nervous System / anatomy & histology*
  • Central Nervous System / growth & development*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electron Microscope Tomography
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / physiology*
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / ultrastructure
  • Neural Conduction / physiology
  • Rabbits
  • White Matter / anatomy & histology*
  • White Matter / growth & development*
  • White Matter / ultrastructure