Introduction: The underlying microstructural properties of white matter differences in children born very preterm (<32 weeks gestational age) can be investigated in depth using multi-shell diffusion imaging. The present study compared white matter across the whole brain using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging (NODDI) metrics in children born very preterm and full-term children at six years of age. We also investigated associations between white matter microstructure with early brain injury and developmental outcomes.
Method: Multi-shell diffusion imaging, T1-weighted anatomical MR images and developmental assessments were acquired in 23 children born very preterm (16 males; mean scan age: 6.57 ± 0.34 years) and 24 full-term controls (10 males, mean scan age: 6.62 ± 0.37 years). DTI metrics were obtained and neurite orientation dispersion index (ODI) and density index (NDI) were estimated using the NODDI diffusion model. FSL's tract-based spatial statistics were performed on traditional DTI metrics and NODDI metrics. Voxel-wise comparisons were performed to test between-group differences and within-group associations with developmental outcomes (intelligence and visual motor abilities) as well as early white matter injury and germinal matrix/intraventricular haemorrhage (GMH/IVH).
Results: In comparison to term-born children, the children born very preterm exhibited lower fractional anisotropy (FA) across many white matter regions as well as higher mean diffusivity (MD), radial diffusivity (RD), and ODI. Within-group analyses of the children born very preterm revealed associations between higher FA and NDI with higher IQ and VMI. Lower ODI was found within the corona radiata in those with a history of white matter injury. Within the full-term group, associations were found between higher NDI and ODI with lower IQ.
Conclusion: Children born very preterm exhibit lower FA and higher ODI than full-term children. NODDI metrics provide more biologically specific information beyond DTI metrics as well as additional information of the impact of prematurity and white matter microstructure on cognitive outcomes at six years of age.
Keywords: Cognition; Diffusion tensor imaging; Neurite density index; Orientation dispersion index; Preterm; White matter.
Copyright © 2019 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.