Microstructural changes of the baboon cerebral cortex during gestational development reflected in magnetic resonance imaging diffusion anisotropy

Christopher D. Kroenke, David C. Van Essen, Terrie E. Inder, Sandra Rees, G. Larry Bretthorst, Jeffrey J. Neil

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83 Scopus citations


Cerebral cortical development involves complex changes in cellular architecture and connectivity that occur at regionally varying rates. Using diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging (DTI) to analyze cortical microstructure, previous studies have shown that cortical maturation is associated with a progressive decline in water diffusion anisotropy. We applied high-resolution DTI to fixed postmortem fetal baboon brains and characterized regional changes in diffusion anisotropy using surface-based visualization methods. Anisotropy values vary within the thickness of the cortical sheet, being higher in superficial layers. At a regional level, anisotropy at embryonic day 90 (E90; 0.5 term; gestation lasts 185 d in this species) is low in allocortical and periallocortical regions near the frontotemporal junction and is uniformly high throughout isocortex. At E125 (0.66 term), regions having relatively low anisotropy (greater maturity) include cortex in and near the Sylvian fissure and the precentral gyrus. By E146 (0.8 term), cortical anisotropy values are uniformly low and show less regional variation. Expansion of cortical surface area does not occur uniformly in all regions. Measured using surface-based methods, cortical expansion over E125-E146 was larger in parietal, medial occipital, and lateral frontal regions than in inferior temporal, lateral occipital, and orbitofrontal regions. However, the overall correlation between the degree of cortical expansion and cortical anisotropy is modest. These results extend our understanding of cortical development revealed by histologic methods. The approach presented here can be applied in vivo to the study of normal brain development and its disruption in human infants and experimental animal models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12506-12515
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number46
StatePublished - Nov 14 2007


  • Brain development
  • Cortical surface
  • Diffusion
  • MRI
  • Nonhuman primate
  • Prenatal


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