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Early Hum Dev. 2009 Oct;85(10 Suppl):S75-7. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2009.08.022. Epub 2009 Sep 29.

Neonatal neuroimaging: going beyond the pictures.

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  • 1Neonatal Intensive Care Unit-Fondazione IRCCS Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico Mangiagalli e Regina Elena University Department of Mother and Infant Sciences, Univeristy of Milan, Italy. lucrameng@hotmail.com


The cerebral ultrasound has been used many years for the diagnosis of brain lesions in term and preterm newborns. Major improvements were obtained by the combination of different imaging modalities such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging with the Diffusion Weighted Imaging (DWI) and the new quantitative Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI). The clinical use of MRI has been validated over some years especially to depict the perinatal asphyxia lesions in term newborns, but its use in order to diagnose the typical diseases of preterm babies is very recent and useful in identifying a marker able to predict neurological outcome. The imaging correlates for motor impairment are well recognized (periventricular white matter cavitations), but no any imaging correlate for cognitive impairment and neurobehavioral disorders. While DWI has been used in term newborns to identify the ischemic areas with restricted diffusion, it may be also used to characterize brain development in preterm infants with the Apparent Diffusion Coefficient (ADC) and may allow us to detect abnormalities responsible for the non-motor impairments. Recent datas showed that in infants without focal lesions higher ADC values in WM were associated with poorer neurodevelopmental assessment at 2 years. The DTI also allows to detect the Fractional Anisotropy (FA) that measures the microstructure. DTI can also be used to map the WM tracts in the immature brain and may be applied to understand the normal development or the response of the brain to injury. Some WM regions in the preterm brain have a lower FA suggesting that widespread WM abnormalities are present in preterms even in the absence of focal lesions. The complexity of the developing brain can be explained by the new tractography that can assess the connectivity of different WM regions and the association between structure and function, such as optic radiations microstructure and visual assessment score. Technological advances in neonatal brain imaging have made a major contribution to understand the neurobehavioral disorders of the developing brain that have the origin in the early structural cerebral organization and maturation.

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