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J Neurosci. 2009 Apr 1;29(13):4263-73. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2769-08.2009.

Anatomical characterization of human fetal brain development with diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging.

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Department of Radiology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA.


The human brain is extraordinarily complex, and yet its origin is a simple tubular structure. Characterizing its anatomy at different stages of human fetal brain development not only aids in understanding this highly ordered process but also provides clues to detecting abnormalities caused by genetic or environmental factors. During the second trimester of human fetal development, neural structures in the brain undergo significant morphological changes. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a novel method of magnetic resonance imaging, is capable of delineating anatomical components with high contrast and revealing structures at the microscopic level. In this study, high-resolution and high-signal-to-noise-ratio DTI data of fixed tissues of second-trimester human fetal brains were acquired and analyzed. DTI color maps and tractography revealed that important white matter tracts, such as the corpus callosum and uncinate and inferior longitudinal fasciculi, become apparent during this period. Three-dimensional reconstruction shows that major brain fissures appear while most of the cerebral surface remains smooth until the end of the second trimester. A dominant radial organization was identified at 15 gestational weeks, followed by both laminar and radial architectures in the cerebral wall throughout the remainder of the second trimester. Volumetric measurements of different structures indicate that the volumes of basal ganglia and ganglionic eminence increase along with that of the whole brain, while the ventricle size decreases in the later second trimester. The developing fetal brain DTI database presented can be used for education, as an anatomical research reference, and for data registration.

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