The Influence of Various Cerebral and Extracerebral Pathologies on Apparent Diffusion Coefficient Values in the Fetal Brain

J Neuroimaging. 2020 Jul;30(4):477-485. doi: 10.1111/jon.12727. Epub 2020 Jun 17.


Background and purpose: The changing MRI signal accompanying brain maturation in fetal brains can be quantified on apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) maps. Deviations from the natural course of ADC values may reflect structural pathology. The purpose of this study was to determine the influence of fetal pathologies on the ADC values in different regions of the fetal brain and their evolution with increasing gestational age.

Methods: This was a retrospective study of 291 fetuses evaluated between the 14th and the 40th week of gestation using diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI). Fetuses with normal MRI findings but sonographically suspected pathology or fetuses with abnormalities not affecting the brain were analyzed in the control group and compared to fetuses suffering from different pathologies like hydrocephalus/ventriculomegaly, brain malformations, infections, ischemia/hemorrhage, diaphragmatic hernias, and congenital heart disease. Pairwise ADC measurements in each side of the white matter (WM) of the frontal, parietal, and occipital lobes, in the basal ganglia and the cerebellum, as well as a single measurement in the pons were performed and were plotted against gestational age.

Results: In the control group, brain maturation followed a defined gradient, resulting in lower ADC values in the most mature regions. Each disorder group experienced abnormal patterns of evolution of the ADC values over time deviating from the expected course.

Conclusions: The ADC values in different regions of the fetal brain and their evolution with increasing gestational age are influenced by pathologies compromising the cerebral maturation.

Keywords: ADC; brain; cerebral pathologies; fetal MRI; maturation.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / embryology
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Gestational Age*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocephalus / diagnostic imaging*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Stroke / diagnostic imaging*