The infant brain undergoes drastic morphological and functional development during the first year of life. Three-dimensional T1-weighted Magnetic Resonance Imaging (3D T1w-MRI) is a major tool to characterize the brain anatomy, which however, manifests inherently low and rapidly changing contrast between white matter (WM) and gray matter (GM) in the infant brains (0-12 month-old). Despite the prior efforts made to maximize tissue contrast in the neonatal brains (≤1 months), optimization of imaging methods in the rest of the infancy (1–12 months) is not fully addressed, while brains in the latter period exhibit even more challenging contrast. Here, we performed a systematic investigation to improve the contrast between cortical GM and subcortical WM throughout the infancy. We first performed simultaneous T1 and proton density mapping in a normally developing infant cohort at 3T (n = 57). Based on the evolution of T1 relaxation times, we defined three age groups and simulated the relative tissue contrast between WM and GM in each group. Age-specific imaging strategies were proposed according to the Bloch simulation: inversion time (TI) around 800 ms for the 0-3 month-old group, dual TI at 500 ms and 700 ms for the 3-7 month-old group, and TI around 700 ms for 7-12 month-old group, using a centrically encoded 3D-MPRAGE sequence at 3T. Experimental results with varying TIs in each group confirmed improved contrast at the proposed optimal TIs, even in 3–7 month-old infants who had nearly isointense contrast. We further demonstrated the advantage of improved relative contrast in segmenting the neonatal brains using a multi-atlas segmentation method. The proposed age-specific optimization strategies can be easily adapted to routine clinical examinations, and the improved image contrast would facilitate quantitative analysis of the infant brain development.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cognitive Neuroscience