Diffusion MRI (dMRI) studies using the tensor model have identified abnormal white matter development associated with perinatal risk factors in preterm infants studied at term equivalent age (TEA). However, this model is an oversimplification of the underlying neuroanatomy. Fixel-based analysis (FBA) is a novel quantitative framework, which identifies microstructural and macrostructural changes in individual fibre populations within voxels containing crossing fibres. The aim of this study was to apply FBA to investigate the relationship between fixel-based measures of apparent fibre density (FD), fibre bundle cross-section (FC), and fibre density and cross-section (FDC) and perinatal risk factors in preterm infants at TEA. We studied 50 infants (28 male) born at 24.0–32.9 (median 30.4) weeks gestational age (GA) and imaged at 38.6–47.1 (median 42.1) weeks postmenstrual age (PMA). dMRI data were acquired in non-collinear directions with b-value 2500 s/mm 2 on a 3 Tesla system sited on the neonatal intensive care unit. FBA was performed to assess the relationship between FD, FC, FDC and PMA at scan, GA at birth, days on mechanical ventilation, days on total parenteral nutrition (TPN), birthweight z-score, and sex. FBA reveals fibre population-specific alterations in FD, FC and FDC associated with clinical risk factors. FD was positively correlated with GA at birth and was negatively correlated with number of days requiring ventilation. FC was positively correlated with GA at birth, birthweight z-scores and was higher in males. FC was negatively correlated with number of days on ventilation and days on TPN. FDC was positively correlated with GA at birth and birthweight z-scores, negatively correlated with days on ventilation and days on TPN and higher in males. We demonstrate that these relationships are fibre-specific even within regions of crossing fibres. These results show that aberrant white matter development involves both microstructural changes and macrostructural alterations.
- Diffusion MRI
- Fixel-based analysis