Diffusion Tensor MRI of White Matter of Healthy Full-term Newborns: Relationship to Neurodevelopmental Outcomes

Radiology. 2019 Jul;292(1):179-187. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2019182564. Epub 2019 Jun 4.


Background It is well known that white matter injuries observed at birth are associated with adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes later in life. Whether white matter developmental variations in healthy newborns are also associated with changes in later neurodevelopment remains to be established. Purpose To evaluate whether developmental variations of white matter microstructures identified by MRI correlate with neurodevelopmental outcomes in healthy full-term infants. Materials and Methods In this prospective study, pregnant women were recruited and their healthy full-term newborns underwent a brain MRI including diffusion tensor imaging at approximately 2 weeks of age. These infants were tested at approximately 2 years of age with the Bayley Scales of Infant Development (BSID). Voxel-wise correlation analyses of fractional anisotropy (FA), measured with diffusion tensor MRI, and neurodevelopmental test scores, measured by using BSID, were performed by using tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS), followed by region-of-interest (ROI) analyses of correlations between mean FA in selected white matter ROIs and each BSID subscale score. Results Thirty-eight full-term infants (20 boys, 18 girls) underwent MRI examination at 2 weeks of age (14.3 days ± 1.6) and BSID measurement at 2 years of age (732 days ± 6). TBSS analyses showed widespread clusters in major white matter tracts, with positive correlations (P ≤ .05, corrected for the voxel-wise multiple comparisons) between FA values and multiple BSID subscale scores. These correlations were largely independent of several demographic parameters as well as family environment. Gestational age at birth appeared to be a confounding factor as TBSS-observed correlations weakened when it was included as a covariate; however, after controlling for gestational age at birth, ROI analyses still showed positive correlations (P ≤ .05, R = 0.35 to 0.48) between mean FA in many white matter ROIs and BSID cognitive, language, and motor scores. Conclusion There were significant associations between white matter microstructure developmental variations in healthy full-term newborns and their neurodevelopmental outcomes. © RSNA, 2019 Online supplemental material is available for this article. See also the editorial by Hu and McAllister in this issue.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / diagnostic imaging*
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Prospective Studies
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging*
  • White Matter / physiopathology
  • Young Adult