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Annu Rev Biomed Eng. 2011 Aug 15;13:345-68. doi: 10.1146/annurev-bioeng-071910-124654.

Mapping fetal brain development in utero using magnetic resonance imaging: the Big Bang of brain mapping.

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Biomedical Image Computing Group, Departments of Pediatrics, Bioengineering, and Radiology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


The development of tools to construct and investigate probabilistic maps of the adult human brain from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has led to advances in both basic neuroscience and clinical diagnosis. These tools are increasingly being applied to brain development in adolescence and childhood, and even to neonatal and premature neonatal imaging. Even earlier in development, parallel advances in clinical fetal MRI have led to its growing use as a tool in challenging medical conditions. This has motivated new engineering developments encompassing optimal fast MRI scans and techniques derived from computer vision, the combination of which allows full 3D imaging of the moving fetal brain in utero without sedation. These promise to provide a new and unprecedented window into early human brain growth. This article reviews the developments that have led us to this point, examines the current state of the art in the fields of fast fetal imaging and motion correction, and describes the tools to analyze dynamically changing fetal brain structure. New methods to deal with developmental tissue segmentation and the construction of spatiotemporal atlases are examined, together with techniques to map fetal brain growth patterns.

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