Cerebellum-cerebrum connections are essential for many motor and cognitive functions and cerebellar disorders are prevalent in childhood. The middle (MCP), inferior (ICP), and superior cerebellar peduncles (SCP) are the major white matter pathways that permit communication between the cerebellum and the cerebrum. Knowledge about the microstructural properties of these cerebellar peduncles across childhood is limited. Here, we report on a diffusion magnetic resonance imaging tractography study to describe age-dependent characteristics of the cerebellar peduncles in a cross-sectional sample of infants, children, and adolescents from newborn to 17 years of age (N = 113). Scans were collected as part of clinical care; participants were restricted to those whose scans showed no abnormal findings and whose history and exam had no risk factors for cerebellar abnormalities. A novel automated tractography protocol was applied. Results showed that mean tract-FA increased, while mean tract-MD decreased from infancy to adolescence in all peduncles. Rapid changes were observed in both diffusion measures in the first 24 months of life, followed by gradual change at older ages. The shape of the tract profiles was similar across ages for all peduncles. These data are the first to characterize the variability of diffusion properties both across and within cerebellar white matter pathways that occur from birth through later adolescence. The data represent a rich normative data set against which white matter alterations seen in children with posterior fossa conditions can be compared. Ultimately, the data will facilitate the identification of sensitive biomarkers of cerebellar abnormalities.
Keywords: Cerebellum; Children and adolescents; Development; Diffusion MRI; Tractography; White matter.