Normal Brain Maturation during Childhood: Developmental Trends Characterized with Diffusion-Tensor MR Imaging

PURPOSE: To characterize the maturational changes in water diffusion within central gray matter nuclei and central white matter pathways of the human brain by using diffusion-tensor magnetic resonance (MR) imaging.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Retrospective analysis of normal MR examination findings in 153 subjects (age range, 1 day to 11 years) referred for clinical neuroimaging was performed. All studies included diffusion tensor-encoded echo-planar MR imaging. Isotropic diffusion coefficient (D̄) and diffusion anisotropy (Aσ) were measured in the corpus callosum, internal capsule, caudate nucleus, lentiform nucleus, and thalamus.

RESULTS: D̄ exhibited biexponential decay with age in gray and white matter regions, except for monoexponential decay in the genu of the corpus callosum. There was a steep nonlinear increase of Aσ in white matter tracts that paralleled the time course of the decline in D̄. In basal ganglia, only a small linear increase in Aσ was observed in patients. Aσ changes in the thalamus were intermediate between basal ganglia and white matter structures.

CONCLUSION: Changes in magnitude and anisotropy of water diffusion follow stereotypical time courses during brain development that can be empirically described with multiexponential regression models, which suggests that quantitative scalar parameters derived from diffusion-tensor MR imaging may provide clinically useful developmental milestones for brain maturity. Supplemental material:


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Article History

Published in print: Nov 2001