Diffusion Tensor Imaging in Very Preterm, Moderate-Late Preterm and Term-Born Neonates: A Systematic Review

J Pediatr. 2021 May;232:48-58.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2021.01.008. Epub 2021 Jan 13.


Objective: To examine white matter abnormalities, measured by diffusion tensor imaging, in very preterm (<32 weeks) and moderate-late preterm neonates (32-37 weeks) at term-equivalent age, compared with healthy full-term controls (≥37 weeks).

Study design: A search of Medline (PubMed) was conducted to identify studies with diffusion data collected on very preterm, moderate-late preterm and full-term neonates, using the guidelines from the Meta-analysis of Observational Studies in Epidemiology and PRISMA statements.

Results: Eleven studies were included with diffusion tensor imaging data from 554 very preterm, 575 moderate-late preterm, and 318 full-term neonates. Widespread statistically significant diffusion measures were found in all preterm subgroups at term-equivalent age compared with full-term neonates, and this difference was more marked for the very preterm group. These abnormalities are suggestive of changes in the white matter microstructure in the preterm groups. The corpus callosum was a region of interest in both early and moderate-late preterm groups, which showed statistically significant diffusion measures in all 11 studies.

Conclusions: Microstructural white matter changes may underpin the increased risk of neurodevelopmental disability seen in preterm infants in later life. diffusion tensor imaging may therefore be a useful prognostic tool for neuro-disability in preterm neonates.

Keywords: diffusion tensor imaging; preterm; systematic review; term equivalent; white matter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Corpus Callosum / diagnostic imaging
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Extremely Premature*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • White Matter / abnormalities
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging*