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PLoS One. 2013 Jul 3;8(7):e67706. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067706. Print 2013.

Testing the sensitivity of Tract-Based Spatial Statistics to simulated treatment effects in preterm neonates.

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  • 1Centre for the Developing Brain, Division of Imaging Sciences & Biomedical Engineering, King's College London, London, United Kingdom.


Early neuroimaging may provide a surrogate marker for brain development and outcome after preterm birth. Tract-Based Spatial Statistics (TBSS) is an advanced Diffusion Tensor Image (DTI) analysis technique that is sensitive to the effects of prematurity and may provide a quantitative marker for neuroprotection following perinatal brain injury or preterm birth. Here, we test the sensitivity of TBSS to detect diffuse microstructural differences in the developing white matter of preterm infants at term-equivalent age by modelling a 'treatment' effect as a global increase in fractional anisotropy (FA). As proof of concept we compare these simulations to a real effect of increasing age at scan. 3-Tesla, 15-direction diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) was acquired from 90 preterm infants at term-equivalent age. Datasets were randomly assigned to 'treated' or 'untreated' groups of increasing size and voxel-wise increases in FA were used to simulate global treatment effects of increasing magnitude in all 'treated' maps. 'Treated' and 'untreated' FA maps were compared using TBSS. Predictions from simulated data were then compared to exemplar TBSS group comparisons based on increasing postmenstrual age at scan. TBSS proved sensitive to global differences in FA within a clinically relevant range, even in relatively small group sizes, and simulated data were shown to predict well a true biological effect of increasing age on white matter development. These data confirm that TBSS is a sensitive tool for detecting global group-wise differences in FA in this population.

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