Department of Radiology, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, PA, USA; Advanced Imaging Research Center, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, TX, USA; Department of Radiology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, PA, USA. Electronic address: [Email]
During the 3rd trimester, dramatic structural changes take place in the human brain, underlying the neural circuit formation. The survival rate of premature infants has increased significantly in recent years. The large morphological differences of the preterm brain at 33 or 36 postmenstrual weeks (PMW) from the brain at 40PMW (full term) make it necessary to establish age-specific atlases for preterm brains. In this study, with high quality (1.5 × 1.5 × 1.6 mm3 imaging resolution) diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) data obtained from 84 healthy preterm and term-born neonates, we established age-specific preterm and term-born brain templates and atlases at 33, 36 and 39PMW. Age-specific DTI templates include a single-subject template, a population-averaged template with linear transformation and a population-averaged template with nonlinear transformation. Each of the age-specific DTI atlases includes comprehensive labeling of 126 major gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM) structures, specifically 52 cerebral cortical structures, 40 cerebral WM structures, 22 brainstem and cerebellar structures and 12 subcortical GM structures. From 33 to 39 PMW, dramatic morphological changes of delineated individual neural structures such as ganglionic eminence and uncinate fasciculus were revealed. The evaluation based on measurements of Dice ratio and L1 error suggested reliable and reproducible automated labels from the age-matched atlases compared to labels from manual delineation. Applying these atlases to automatically and effectively delineate microstructural changes of major WM tracts during the 3rd trimester was demonstrated. The established age-specific DTI templates and atlases of 33, 36 and 39 PMW brains may be used for not only understanding normal functional and structural maturational processes but also detecting biomarkers of neural disorders in the preterm brains.