The myelin content of the cortex changes over the human lifetime and aberrant cortical myelination is associated with diseases such as schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis. Recently magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques have shown potential in differentiating between myeloarchitectonically distinct cortical regions in vivo. Here we introduce a new algorithm for correcting partial volume effects present in mm-scale MRI images which was used to investigate the myelination pattern of the cerebral cortex in 1555 clinically normal subjects using the ratio of T1-weighted (T1w) and T2-weighted (T2w) MRI images. A significant linear cross-sectional age increase in T1w/T2w estimated myelin was detected across an 18 to 35 year age span (highest value of ~ 1%/year compared to mean T1w/T2w myelin value at 18 years). The cortex was divided at mid-thickness and the value of T1w/T2w myelin calculated for the inner and outer layers separately. The increase in T1w/T2w estimated myelin occurs predominantly in the inner layer for most cortical regions. The ratio of the inner and outer layer T1w/T2w myelin was further validated using high-resolution in vivo MRI scans and also a high-resolution MRI scan of a postmortem brain. Additionally, the relationships between cortical thickness, curvature and T1w/T2w estimated myelin were found to be significant, although the relationships varied across the cortex. We discuss these observations as well as limitations of using the T1w/T2w ratio as an estimate of cortical myelin.
Keywords: Cortical development; MRI; Myelin; Partial volume effect.
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