The regional specification of the cerebral cortex can be described by protomap and protocortex hypotheses. The protomap hypothesis suggests that the regional destiny of cortical neurons and the relative size of the cortical area are genetically determined early during embryonic development. The protocortex hypothesis suggests that the regional growth rate is predominantly shaped by external influences. In order to determine regional volumes of cortical compartments (cortical plate (CP) or subplate (SP)) and estimate their growth rates, we acquired T2-weighted in utero MRIs of 40 healthy fetuses and grouped them into early (<25.5 GW), mid- (25.5-31.6 GW), and late (>31.6 GW) prenatal periods. MRIs were segmented into CP and SP and further parcellated into 22 gyral regions. No significant difference was found between periods in regional volume fractions of the CP or SP. However, during the early and mid-prenatal periods, we found significant differences in relative growth rates (% increase per GW) between regions of cortical compartments. Thus, the relative size of these regions are most likely conserved and determined early during development whereas more subtle growth differences between regions are fine-tuned later, during periods of peak thalamocortical growth. This is in agreement with both the protomap and protocortex hypothesis.
Keywords: cerebral cortex; fetus; gyrification; subplate; transient fetal compartments.
Published by Oxford University Press 2020.