The magnetization transfer ratio (MTR) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) correlates of early brain development were examined in cohort of 18 very preterm neonates (27-31 gestational weeks) presenting with normal radiological findings scanned within 2weeks after birth (28-32 gestational weeks). A combination of non-linear image registration, tissue segmentation, and voxel-wise regression was used to map the age dependent changes in MTR and DTI-derived parameters in 3D across the brain based on the cross-sectional in vivo preterm data. The regression coefficient maps obtained differed between brain regions and between the different quantitative MRI indices. Significant linear increases as well as decreases in MTR and DTI-derived parameters were observed throughout the preterm brain. In particular, the lamination pattern in the cerebral wall was evident on parametric and regression coefficient maps. The frontal white matter area (subplate and intermediate zone) demonstrated a linear decrease in MTR. While the intermediate zone showed an unexpected decrease in fractional anisotropy (FA) with age, with this decrease (and the increase in mean diffusivity (MD)) driven primarily by an increase in radial diffusivity (RD) values, the subplate showed no change in FA (and an increase in MD). The latter was the result of a concomitant similar increase in axial diffusivity (AD) and RD values. Interpreting the in vivo results in terms of available histological data, we present a biophysical model that describes the relation between various microstructural changes measured by complementary quantitative methods available on clinical scanners and a range of maturational processes in brain tissue.
Keywords: Brain maturation; DTI; MTR; Preterm neonates; Quantitative MRI; Voxel based analysis.
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