Newborns and preterm infants at term equivalent age: A semi-quantitative assessment of cerebral maturity

Neuroimage Clin. 2019:24:102014. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2019.102014. Epub 2019 Oct 19.


Background and purpose: Currently available MRI scoring systems of cerebral maturation in term and preterm infant at term equivalent age do not include the changes of transient fetal compartments that persist to term age. We studied the visibility and the pattern of these structures in healthy term newborns compared to preterm infants at term equivalent age in order to investigate if they can be included in a new MRI score system. We hypothesized that transient fetal compartments are different in both groups, and that these differences can be characterized using the clinical T2-weighted MRIs.

Materials and methods: Using 3T MRI T2-weighted brain sequences of 21 full-term and 41 preterm infants (< 32 weeks), scanned at term equivalent age, 3 raters independently scored the maturation level of 3 transient fetal compartments: the periventricular crossroads, von Monakow segments of the white matter, and the subplate compartment. These 3 new items were included in a scoring system along with validated parameters of brain maturation (germinal matrix, bands of migration, subarachnoid space and quality of gyrification). A cumulative maturity score was calculated separately for both groups of newborns by adding together each item. More mature were the brain structures, higher was the cumulative maturity score.

Results: Cumulative maturity score distinguished full-term from preterm infants (mean score 41/60 ± 1.4 versus 37/60 ± 2.5 points, p < 0.001), with an increase of 0.5 points for each supplemental gestational week at birth (r = 0.5, 95% CI 0.5 - 0.85). While a majority of transient fetal compartments were less mature in preterm group at term equivalent age, von Monakow segments of the white matter and subplate compartment presented a more advanced maturational stage in the preterm group compared to the term group. No subject had all scored items in the most mature state. Except a slight intra-rater agreement for von Monakow segment II, inter- and intra-rater agreements were moderate to excellent indicating the potential of the developed scoring system in routine clinical practice.

Conclusion: Brain transient fetal structures can be assessed on regular T2-weighted MRI in newborns. Their appearance differs between term and preterm babies. However our results suggest a more complex situation, with both delayed and accelerated maturation pattern in preterm infants. It remains to be determined if these differences could be biomarkers of the future neurodevelopment of preterm infants.

Keywords: 3 Tesla MRI; Brain maturation; Prematurity; Scoring system; Transient fetal brain structures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cerebrum* / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebrum* / growth & development
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Gray Matter* / diagnostic imaging
  • Gray Matter* / growth & development
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature* / growth & development
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Subarachnoid Space* / diagnostic imaging
  • Subarachnoid Space* / growth & development
  • White Matter* / diagnostic imaging
  • White Matter* / growth & development