White matter microstructure of 6-year old children born preterm and full term

Neuroimage Clin. 2017 Aug 8:16:268-275. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2017.08.005. eCollection 2017.


Aim: We previously observed a complex pattern of differences in white matter (WM) microstructure between preterm-born (PT) and full-term-born (FT) children and adolescents age 9-17 years. The aim of this study was to determine if the same differences exist as early as age 6 years.

Method: We obtained diffusion MRI (dMRI) scans in children born PT at age 6 years (n = 20; 11 males) and FT (n = 38; 14 males), using two scanning protocols: 30 diffusion directions (b = 1000 s/mm2) and 96 diffusion directions (b = 2500 s/mm2). We used deterministic tractography and analyzed fractional anisotropy (FA) along bilateral cerebral WM pathways that demonstrated differences in the older sample.

Results: Compared to the FT group, the PT group showed (1) significantly decreased FA in the uncinate fasciculi and forceps major and (2) significantly increased FA in the right anterior thalamic radiation, inferior fronto-occipital fasciculi, and inferior longitudinal fasciculi. This pattern of group differences resembles findings in the previous study of older PT and FT participants. Group differences were similar across dMRI acquisition protocols.

Interpretation: The underlying neurobiology driving the pattern of PT-FT differences in FA is present as early as age 6 years. Generalization across dMRI acquisition protocols demonstrates the robustness of group differences in FA. Future studies will use quantitative neuroimaging techniques to understand the tissue properties that give rise to this consistent pattern of WM differences after PT birth.

Keywords: Development; Diffusion tensor imaging; Prematurity; Tractography; White matter.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anisotropy
  • Child
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / methods
  • Female
  • Gestational Age*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / pathology*
  • Neural Pathways / growth & development*
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth
  • White Matter / growth & development*