The development of connectivity between the thalamus and maturing cortex is a fundamental process in the second half of human gestation, establishing the neural circuits that are the basis for several important brain functions. In this study, we acquired high-resolution in utero diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) from 140 fetuses as part of the Developing Human Connectome Project, to examine the emergence of thalamocortical white matter over the second to third trimester. We delineate developing thalamocortical pathways and parcellate the fetal thalamus according to its cortical connectivity using diffusion tractography. We then quantify microstructural tissue components along the tracts in fetal compartments that are critical substrates for white matter maturation, such as the subplate and intermediate zone. We identify patterns of change in the diffusion metrics that reflect critical neurobiological transitions occurring in the second to third trimester, such as the disassembly of radial glial scaffolding and the lamination of the cortical plate. These maturational trajectories of MR signal in transient fetal compartments provide a normative reference to complement histological knowledge, facilitating future studies to establish how developmental disruptions in these regions contribute to pathophysiology.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere83727
Early online date3 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2023


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