BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Preterm birth is associated with worse neurodevelopmental outcome, but brain maturation in preterm infants is poorly characterized with standard methods. We evaluated white matter (WM) of infant brains at term-equivalent age, as a function of gestational age at birth, using multimodal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). METHODS: Infants born very preterm (<32 weeks gestation) and late preterm (33-36 weeks gestation) were scanned at 3 T at term-equivalent age using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and T2 relaxometry. MRI data were analyzed using tract-based spatial statistics, and anisotropy of T2 relaxation was also determined. Principal component analysis and linear discriminant analysis were applied to seek the variables best distinguishing very preterm and late preterm groups. RESULTS: Across widespread regions of WM, T2 is longer in very preterm infants than in late preterm ones. These effects are more prevalent in regions of WM that myelinate earlier and faster. Similar effects are obtained from DTI, showing that fractional anisotropy (FA) is lower and radial diffusivity higher in the very preterm group, with a bias toward earlier myelinating regions. Discriminant analysis shows high sensitivity and specificity of combined T2 relaxometry and DTI for the detection of a distinct WM development pathway in very preterm infants. T2 relaxation is anisotropic, depending on the angle between WM fiber and magnetic field, and this effect is modulated by FA. CONCLUSIONS: Combined T2 relaxometry and DTI characterizes specific patterns of retarded WM maturation, at term equivalent age, in infants born very preterm relative to late preterm.
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- Brain and Behaviour
- Cognitive Science
- Brain Imaging
- diffusion tensor imaging
- preterm birth
- T2 relaxometry
- white matter