In Utero Diffusion Tensor Imaging Of The Fetal Brain: A Reproducibility Study
Our purpose was to evaluate the within-subject reproducibility of in utero diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) metrics and the visibility of major white matter structures. Images for 30 fetuses (20-33. postmenstrual weeks, normal neurodevelopment: 6 cases, cerebral pathology: 24 cases) were acquired on 1.5T or 3.0T MRI. DTI with 15 diffusion-weighting directions was repeated three times for each case, TR/TE: 2200/63 ms, voxel size: 1*1 mm, slice thickness: 3-5 mm, b-factor: 700 s/mm2.
... was evaluated from structure detectability, variability of DTI measures using the coefficient of variation (CV), image correlation and structural similarity across repeated scans for six selected structures. The effect of age, scanner type, presence of pathology was determined using Wilcoxon rank sum test. White matter structures were detectable in the following percentage of fetuses in at least two of the three repeated scans: corpus callosum genu 76%, splenium 64%, internal capsule, posterior limb 60%, brainstem fibers 40% and temporooccipital association pathways 60%. The mean CV of DTI metrics ranged between 3% and 14.6% and we measured higher reproducibility in fetuses with normal brain development. Head motion was negatively correlated with reproducibility, this effect was partially ameliorated by motion-correction algorithm using image registration. Structures on 3.0 T had higher variability both with- and without motion correction. Fetal DTI is reproducible for projection and commissural bundles during mid-gestation, however, in 16-30% of the cases, data were corrupted by artifacts, resulting in impaired detection of white matter structures. To achieve robust results for the quantitative analysis of diffusivity and anisotropy values, fetal-specific image processing is recommended and repeated DTI is needed to ensure the detectability of fiber pathways.