Mapping the asynchrony of cortical maturation in the infant brain: a MRI multi-parametric clustering approach

Abstract : While the main neural networks are in place at term birth, intense changes in cortical microstructure occur during early infancy with the development of dendritic arborization, synaptogenesis and fiber myelination. These maturational processes are thought to relate to behavioral acquisitions and the development of cognitive abilities. Nevertheless, in vivo investigations of such relationships are still lacking in healthy infants. To bridge this gap, we aimed to study the cortical maturation using non-invasive Magnetic Resonance Imaging, over a largely unexplored period (1-5 post-natal months). In a first univariate step, we focused on different quantitative parameters: longitudinal relaxation time (T1), transverse relaxation time (T2), and axial diffusivity from diffusion tensor imaging (λ//) These individual maps, acquired with echo-planar imaging to limit the acquisition time, showed spatial distortions that were first corrected to reliably match the thin cortical ribbon identified on high-resolution T2-weighted images. Averaged maps were also computed over the infants group to summarize the parameter characteristics during early infancy. In a second step, we considered a multi-parametric approach that leverages parameters complementarity, avoids reliance on pre-defined regions of interest, and does not require spatial constraints. Our clustering strategy allowed us to group cortical voxels over all infants in 5 clusters with distinct microstructural T1 and λ// properties The cluster maps over individual cortical surfaces and over the group were in sound agreement with benchmark post mortem studies of sub-cortical white matter myelination, showing a progressive maturation of 1) primary sensori-motor areas, 2) adjacent unimodal associative cortices, and 3) higher-order associative regions. This study thus opens a consistent approach to study cortical maturation in vivo.
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Jessica Lebenberg, Jean-François Mangin, Bertrand Thirion, Cyril Poupon, Lucie Hertz-Pannier, et al.. Mapping the asynchrony of cortical maturation in the infant brain: a MRI multi-parametric clustering approach. NeuroImage, Elsevier, 2019, 185, pp.641-653. ⟨10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.07.022⟩. ⟨hal-01966812⟩

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