Abstract

Spatial and functional gradients of development have been described for the maturation of cerebral gray and white matter using histological and radiological approaches. We evaluated these patterns in very preterm (VPT) infants using diffusion tensor imaging. Data were obtained from 3 groups: 1) 22 VPT infants without white matter injury (WMI), of whom all had serial MRI studies during the neonatal period, 2) 19 VPT infants with WMI, of whom 3 had serial MRI studies and 3) 12 healthy, term-born infants. Regions of interest were placed in the cortical gray and adjacent white matter in primary motor, primary visual, visual association, and prefrontal regions. From the MRI data at term-equivalent postmenstrual age, differences in mean diffusivity were found in all areas between VPT infants with WMI and the other 2 groups. In contrast, minimal differences in fractional anisotropy were found between the 3 groups. These findings suggest that cortical maturation is delayed in VPT infants with WMI when compared with term control infants and VPT infants without WMI. From the serial MRI data from VPT infants, synchronous development between gray and white matter was evident in all areas and all groups, with maturation in primary motor and sensory regions preceding that of association areas. This finding highlights the regionally varying but locally synchronous nature of the development of cortical gray matter and its adjacent white matter.

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