Diffuse white matter abnormality in very preterm infants at term reflects reduced brain network efficiency

Neuroimage Clin. 2021:31:102739. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2021.102739. Epub 2021 Jun 25.


Between 50 and 80% of very preterm infants (<32 weeks gestational age) exhibit increased white matter signal intensity on T2-weighted MRI at term-equivalent age, known as diffuse white matter abnormality (DWMA). A few studies have linked DWMA with microstructural abnormalities, but the exact relationship remains poorly understood. We related DWMA extent to graph theory measures of network efficiency at term in a representative cohort of 343 very preterm infants. We performed anatomic and diffusion MRI at term and quantified DWMA volume with our novel, semi-automated algorithm. From diffusion-weighted structural connectomes, we calculated the graph theory metrics local efficiency and clustering coefficient, which measure the ability of groups of nodes to perform specialized processing, and global efficiency, which assesses the ability of brain regions to efficiently combine information. We computed partial correlations between these measures and DWMA volume, adjusted for confounders. Increasing DWMA volume was associated with decreased global efficiency of the entire very preterm brain and decreased local efficiency and clustering coefficient in a variety of regions supporting cognitive, linguistic, and motor function. We show that DWMA is associated with widespread decreased brain network efficiency, suggesting that it is pathologic and likely has adverse developmental consequences.

Keywords: Diffuse white matter abnormality; Graph theory; Very preterm; diffusion MRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • White Matter* / diagnostic imaging