Development of Cortical Morphology Evaluated with Longitudinal MR Brain Images of Preterm Infants

Moeskops, Pim, Benders, Manon, Kersbergen, Karina, Groenendaal, Floris, de Vries, Linda, Viergever, Max A., Isgum, I


PLoS ONE [E] 10 (7),



The cerebral cortex develops rapidly in the last trimester of pregnancy. In preterm infants, brain development is very vulnerable because of their often complicated extra-uterine conditions. The aim of this study was to quantitatively describe cortical development in a cohort of 85 preterm infants with and without brain injury imaged at 30 and 40 weeks postmenstrual age (PMA).


In the acquired T2-weighted MR images, unmyelinated white matter (UWM), cortical grey matter (CoGM), and cerebrospinal fluid in the extracerebral space (CSF) were automatically segmented. Based on these segmentations, cortical descriptors evaluating volume, surface area, thickness, gyrification index, and global mean curvature were computed at both time points, for the whole brain, as well as for the frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes separately. Additionally, visual scoring of brain abnormality was performed using a conventional scoring system at 40 weeks PMA.


The evaluated descriptors showed larger change in the occipital lobes than in the other lobes. Moreover, the cortical descriptors showed an association with the abnormality scores: gyrification index and global mean curvature decreased, whereas, interestingly, median cortical thickness increased with increasing abnormality score. This was more pronounced at 40 weeks PMA than at 30 weeks PMA, suggesting that the period between 30 and 40 weeks PMA might provide a window of opportunity for intervention to prevent delay in cortical development.