Diffusion Tensor Imaging as a Diagnostic and Research Tool: A Study on Preterm Infants

(abstract of the doctoral dissertation)

link to the doctoral dissertation


Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is an advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique. DTI is based on free thermal motion (diffusion) of water molecules. The properties of diffusion can be represented using parameters such as fractional anisotropy, mean diffusivity, axial diffusivity, and radial diffusivity, which are calculated from DTI data. These parameters can be used to study the microstructure in fibrous structure such as brain white matter.


The aim of this study was to investigate the reproducibility of region-of-interest (ROI) analysis and determine associations between white matter integrity and antenatal and early postnatal growth at term age using DTI.


Antenatal growth was studied using both the ROI and tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) method and postnatal growth using only the TBSS method. The infants included to this study were born below 32 gestational weeks or birthweight less than 1,501 g and imaged with a 1.5 T MRI system at term age. Total number of 132 infants met the inclusion criteria between June 2004 and December 2006. Due to exclusion criteria, a total of 76 preterm infants (ROI) and 36 preterm infants (TBSS) were accepted to this study.


The ROI analysis was quite reproducible at term age. Reproducibility varied between white matter structures and diffusion parameters. Normal antenatal growth was positively associated with white matter maturation at term age. The ROI analysis showed associations only in the corpus callosum. Whereas, TBSS revealed associations in several brain white matter areas. Infants with normal antenatal growth showed more mature white matter compared to small for gestational age infants. The gestational age at birth had no significant association with white matter maturation at term age. It was observed that good early postnatal growth associated negatively with white matter maturation at term age. Growth-restricted infants seemed to have delayed brain maturation that was not fully compensated at term, despite catch- up growth.