Diffusion MRI Microstructural Abnormalities at Term-Equivalent Age Are Associated with Neurodevelopmental Outcomes at 3 Years of Age in Very Preterm Infants

AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2021 Aug;42(8):1535-1542. doi: 10.3174/ajnr.A7135. Epub 2021 May 6.


Background and purpose: Microstructural white matter abnormalities on DTI using Tract-Based Spatial Statistics at term-equivalent age are associated with cognitive and motor outcomes at 2 years of age or younger. However, neurodevelopmental tests administered at such early time points are insufficiently predictive of mild-moderate motor and cognitive impairment at school age. Our objective was to evaluate the microstructural antecedents of cognitive and motor outcomes at 3 years' corrected age in a cohort of very preterm infants.

Materials and methods: We prospectively recruited 101 very preterm infants (<32 weeks' gestational age) and performed DTI at term-equivalent age. The Differential Ability Scales, 2nd ed, Verbal and Nonverbal subtests, and the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, 3rd ed, Motor subtest, were administered at 3 years of age. We correlated DTI metrics from Tract-Based Spatial Statistics with the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, 3rd ed, and the Differential Ability Scales, 2nd ed, scores with correction for multiple comparisons.

Results: Of the 101 subjects, 84 had high-quality DTI data, and of these, 69 returned for developmental testing (82%). Their mean (SD) gestational age was 28.4 (2.5) weeks, and birth weight was 1121.4 (394.1) g. DTI metrics were significantly associated with Nonverbal Ability in the corpus callosum, posterior thalamic radiations, fornix, and inferior longitudinal fasciculus and with Motor scores in the corpus callosum, internal and external capsules, posterior thalamic radiations, superior and inferior longitudinal fasciculi, cerebral peduncles, and corticospinal tracts.

Conclusions: We identified widespread microstructural white matter abnormalities in very preterm infants at term that were significantly associated with cognitive and motor development at 3 years' corrected age.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • White Matter* / diagnostic imaging