A new technique based on diffusion tensor imaging and computational neuroanatomy was developed to efficiently and quantitatively characterize the three-dimensional morphology of the developing brains. The technique was used to analyze the phenotype of conditional Bcl-x knock-out mice, in which the bcl-x gene was deleted specifically in neurons of the cerebral cortex and hippocampus beginning at embryonic day 13.5 as cells became postmitotic. Affected brain regions and associated axonal tracts showed severe atrophy in adult Bcl-x-deficient mice. Longitudinal studies revealed that these phenotypes are established by regressive processes that occur primarily during the first postnatal week, whereas neurogenesis and migration showed no obvious abnormality during embryonic stages. Specific families of white matter tracts that once formed normally during the embryonic stages underwent dramatic degeneration postnatally. Thus, this technique serves as a powerful tool to efficiently localize temporal and spatial manifestation of morphological phenotype.
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