Objective: The purpose of this study was to compare white matter maturation as demonstrated with diffusion-weighted MRI and with myelin-sensitive histological staining.
Materials and methods: The diffusion-, T1-, and T2-weighted SE MRI at 4.7 T was performed weekly in a total of 16 rat pups, aged from 5 days to 8 weeks, 2 animals evaluated per week. Heavily diffusion-weighted sequences were obtained with the diffusion-sensitizing gradient switched alternately in two orthogonal directions. To enhance signal intensity of anisotropic structures, a synthesized image (referred to as the "anisotropy index map") was constructed from the ratio of pairs of images acquired with diffusion sensitization of identical magnitude but orthogonal direction sensitivity. The anisotropy index maps were used for comparison with T1-weighted and heavily T2-weighted SE sequences and histological sections, respectively.
Results: The first evidence of diffusion anisotropy on anisotropy index maps preceded initial myelin as well as neurofibril staining by 5-12 days and T2 shortening by 2 weeks. The T1-weighted sequences did not yield visible changes and were not helpful for the assessment of ongoing white matter maturation in this model.
Conclusion: Magnetic resonance imaging signal intensity changes based on anisotropic water diffusion were demonstrated in regions of unmyelinated cerebral white matter tracts of albino rat pups before the onset of histologically detectable myelin. The ability of in vivo mapping of premyelinating white matter maturation indicates a new diagnostic use of MRI in evaluating cerebral white matter maturation.