Objectives: To compare mean pulmonary T2* values and pulmonary volumes in fetuses that subsequently spontaneously delivered before 32 weeks with a control cohort with comparable gestational ages and to assess the value of mean pulmonary T2* as a predictor of preterm birth < 32 weeks’ gestation. Methods: MRI datasets scanned at similar gestational ages were selected from fetuses who spontaneously delivered < 32 weeks of gestation and a control group who subsequently delivered at term with no complications. All women underwent a fetal MRI on a 3 T MRI imaging system. Sequences included T2-weighted single shot fast spin echo and T2* sequences, using gradient echo single shot echo planar sequencing of the fetal thorax. Motion correction was performed using slice-to-volume reconstruction and T2* maps generated using in-house pipelines. Lungs were manually segmented and volumes and mean T2* values calculated for both lungs combined and left and right lung separately. Linear regression was used to compare values between the preterm and control cohorts accounting for the effects of gestation. Receiver operating curves were generated for mean T2* values and pulmonary volume as predictors of preterm birth < 32 weeks’ gestation. Results: Datasets from twenty-eight preterm and 74 control fetuses were suitable for analysis. MRI images were taken at similar fetal gestational ages (preterm cohort (mean ± SD) 24.9 ± 3.3 and control cohort (mean ± SD) 26.5 ± 3.0). Mean gestational age at delivery was 26.4 ± 3.3 for the preterm group and 39.9 ± 1.3 for the control group. Mean pulmonary T2* values remained constant with increasing gestational age while pulmonary volumes increased. Both T2* and pulmonary volumes were lower in the preterm group than in the control group for all parameters (both combined, left, and right lung (p < 0.001 in all cases). Adjusted for gestational age, pulmonary volumes and mean T2* values were good predictors of premature delivery in fetuses < 32 weeks (area under the curve of 0.828 and 0.754 respectively). Conclusion: These findings indicate that mean pulmonary T2* values and volumes were lower in fetuses that subsequently delivered very preterm. This may suggest potentially altered oxygenation and indicate that pulmonary morbidity associated with prematurity has an antenatal antecedent. Future work should explore these results correlating antenatal findings with long term pulmonary outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-114
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Obstetrics Gynecology and Reproductive Biology
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


  • Lung development
  • fetal MRI
  • prenatal prediction

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