In neuroimaging, cortical surface atlases play a fundamental role for spatial normalization, analysis, visualization, and comparison of results across individuals and different studies. However, existing cortical surface atlases created for adults are not suitable for infant brains during the first two postnatal years, which is the most dynamic period of postnatal structural and functional development of the highly-folded cerebral cortex. Therefore, spatiotemporal cortical surface atlases for infant brains are highly desired yet still lacking for accurate mapping of early dynamic brain development. To bridge this significant gap, leveraging our infant-dedicated computational pipeline for cortical surface-based analysis and the unique longitudinal infant MRI dataset acquired in our research center, in this paper, we construct the first spatiotemporal (4D) high-definition cortical surface atlases for the dynamic developing infant cortical structures at seven time points, including 1, 3, 6, 9, 12, 18, and 24 months of age, based on 202 serial MRI scans from 35 healthy infants. For this purpose, we develop a novel method to ensure the longitudinal consistency and unbiasedness to any specific subject and age in our 4D infant cortical surface atlases. Specifically, we first compute the within-subject mean cortical folding by unbiased groupwise registration of longitudinal cortical surfaces of each infant. Then we establish longitudinally-consistent and unbiased inter-subject cortical correspondences by groupwise registration of the geometric features of within-subject mean cortical folding across all infants. Our 4D surface atlases capture both longitudinally-consistent dynamic mean shape changes and the individual variability of cortical folding during early brain development. Experimental results on two independent infant MRI datasets show that using our 4D infant cortical surface atlases as templates leads to significantly improved accuracy for spatial normalization of cortical surfaces across infant individuals, in comparison to the infant surface atlases constructed without longitudinal consistency and also the FreeSurfer adult surface atlas. Moreover, based on our 4D infant surface atlases, for the first time, we reveal the spatially-detailed, region-specific correlation patterns of the dynamic cortical developmental trajectories between different cortical regions during early brain development.
Keywords: 4D atlas; Cortical folding; Cortical thickness; Developmental trajectory; Infant cortical surface.
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