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Cereb Cortex. 2012 Feb;22(2):455-64. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr126. Epub 2011 Jun 13.

Emerging cerebral connectivity in the human fetal brain: an MR tractography study.

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Division of Newborn Medicine, Department of Medicine, Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Cerebral axonal connections begin to develop before birth during radial migration in each brain area. A number of theories are still actively debated regarding the link between neuronal migration, developing connectivity, and gyrification. Here, we used high angular resolution diffusion tractography on postmortem fetal human brains (postconception week (W) 17-40) to document the regression of radial and tangential organization likely to represent migration pathways and the emergence of corticocortical organization and gyrification. The dominant radial organization at W17 gradually diminished first in dorsal parieto-occipital and later in ventral frontotemporal regions with regional variation: radial organization persisted longer in the crests of gyri than at the depths of sulci. The dominant tangential organization of the ganglionic eminence at W17 also gradually disappeared by term, together with the disappearance of the ganglionic eminence. A few immature long-range association pathways were visible at W17, gradually became evident by term. Short-range corticocortical tracts emerged prior to gyrification in regions where sulci later developed. Our results suggest that the regional regression of radial organization and regional emergence of fetal brain connectivity proceeds in general from posterodorsal to anteroventral with local variations.

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