Diffusion magnetic resonance imaging assessment of regional white matter maturation in preterm neonates


Abstract Purpose Diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) studies report altered white matter (WM) development in preterm infants. Neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging (NODDI) metrics provide more realistic estimations of neurite architecture in vivo compared with standard diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) metrics. This study investigated microstructural maturation of WM in preterm neonates scanned between 25 and 45 weeks postmenstrual age (PMA) with normal neurodevelopmental outcomes at 2 years using DTI and NODDI metrics. Methods Thirty-one neonates ( n = 17 male) with median (range) gestational age (GA) 32 +1 weeks (24 +2 –36 +4 ) underwent 3 T brain MRI at median (range) post menstrual age (PMA) 35 +2 weeks (25 +3 –43 +1 ). WM tracts (cingulum, fornix, corticospinal tract (CST), inferior longitudinal fasciculus (ILF), optic radiations) were delineated using constrained spherical deconvolution and probabilistic tractography in MRtrix3. DTI and NODDI metrics were extracted for the whole tract and cross-sections along each tract to assess regional development. Results PMA at scan positively correlated with fractional anisotropy (FA) in the CST, fornix and optic radiations and neurite density index (NDI) in the cingulum, CST and fornix and negatively correlated with mean diffusivity (MD) in all tracts. A multilinear regression model demonstrated PMA at scan influenced all diffusion measures, GA and GAxPMA at scan influenced FA, MD and NDI and gender affected NDI. Cross-sectional analyses revealed asynchronous WM maturation within and between WM tracts.). Conclusion We describe normal WM maturation in preterm neonates with normal neurodevelopmental outcomes. NODDI can enhance our understanding of WM maturation compared with standard DTI metrics alone.