Multi-parametric evaluation of the white matter maturation
In vivo evaluation of the brain white matter maturation is still a challenging task with no existing gold standards. In this article we propose an original approach to evaluate the early maturation of the white matter bundles, which is based on comparison of infant and adult groups using the Mahalanobis distance computed from four complementary MRI parameters: quantitative qT1 and qT2 relaxation times, longitudinal λ║ and transverse λ⊥ diffusivities from diffusion tensor imaging. Such multi-parametric approach is expected to better describe maturational asynchrony than conventional univariate approaches because it takes into account complementary dependencies of the parameters on different maturational processes, notably the decrease in water content and the myelination. Our approach was tested on 17 healthy infants (aged 3- to 21-week old) for 18 different bundles. It finely confirmed maturational asynchrony across the bundles: the spino-thalamic tract, the optic radiations, the cortico-spinal tract and the fornix have the most advanced maturation, while the superior longitudinal and arcuate fasciculi, the anterior limb of the internal capsule and the external capsule have the most delayed maturation. Furthermore, this approach was more reliable than univariate approaches as it revealed more maturational relationships between the bundles and did not violate a priori assumptions on the temporal order of the bundle maturation. Mahalanobis distances decreased exponentially with age in all bundles, with the only difference between them explained by different onsets of maturation. Estimation of these relative delays confirmed that the most dramatic changes occur during the first post-natal year.