Objective: Although the features of neuronal migration have been known since the turn of the century, the serial features of neuronal migration as seen with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have not been described. Our objective was to provide a template of the normal appearance and the temporal pattern of neuronal migration in the human fetal brain early in the second trimester as seen with MR imaging and to correlate our findings with histological sections and atlases.
Methods: Twenty-eight normal fetal specimens, which ranged from 9 to 24 weeks of gestational age, were imaged with a 1.5 T clinical MRI unit by use of conventional spin echo, fast spin echo, and three-dimensional Fourier transformation spoiled gradient refocussed pulse sequences.
Results: The three-dimensional Fourier transformation spoiled gradient refocussed pulse sequence provided the highest resolution images of neuronal migration. At 13 weeks of gestational age, the germinal matrix was identified. A five-layer pattern of the fetal forebrain, which included layers of neuroblast formation and migration, could be identified at 16 to 18 weeks by MRI. The germinal matrix and layers of migrating neurons diminished considerably in size by 21 weeks. Histological studies and correlation with anatomic atlases confirmed the MRI findings.
Conclusion: Images obtained by use of MRI with standard clinical pulse sequences can document the appearance and the temporal patterns of neuronal migration in postmortem fetal specimens. With the evolution of high-resolution MRI and faster scanning techniques, these findings may serve as a template for the in utero MRI appearance of neuronal migration and thereby compliment the antenatal ultrasonic investigation of congenital anomalies.