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Local Tissue Growth Patterns Underlying Normal Fetal Human Brain Gyrification Quantified In Utero

V. Rajagopalan, J. Scott, P. Habas, K. Kim, J. Corbett-Detig, François Rousseau, A. Barkovich, O. Glenn, C. Studholme
Published 2011 · Biology, Medicine

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Existing knowledge of growth patterns in the living fetal human brain is based upon in utero imaging studies by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound, which describe overall growth and provide mainly qualitative findings. However, formation of the complex folded cortical structure of the adult brain requires, in part, differential rates of regional tissue growth. To better understand these local tissue growth patterns, we applied recent advances in fetal MRI motion correction and computational image analysis techniques to 40 normal fetal human brains covering a period of primary sulcal formation (20–28 gestational weeks). Growth patterns were mapped by quantifying tissue locations that were expanding more or less quickly than the overall cerebral growth rate, which reveal increasing structural complexity. We detected increased local relative growth rates in the formation of the precentral and postcentral gyri, right superior temporal gyrus, and opercula, which differentiated between the constant growth rate in underlying cerebral mantle and the accelerating rate in the cortical plate undergoing folding. Analysis focused on the cortical plate revealed greater volume increases in parietal and occipital regions compared to the frontal lobe. Cortical plate growth patterns constrained to narrower age ranges showed that gyrification, reflected by greater growth rates, was more pronounced after 24 gestational weeks. Local hemispheric volume asymmetry was located in the posterior peri-Sylvian area associated with structural lateralization in the mature brain. These maps of fetal brain growth patterns construct a spatially specific baseline of developmental biomarkers with which to correlate abnormal development in the human.
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