, Volume 215, Issue 3-4, pp 255-263,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 29 Oct 2010

3D global and regional patterns of human fetal subplate growth determined in utero

Abstract

The waiting period of subplate evolution is a critical phase for the proper formation of neural connections in the brain. During this time, which corresponds to 15 to 24 postconceptual weeks (PCW) in the human fetus, thalamocortical and cortico-cortical afferents wait in and are in part guided by molecules embedded in the extracellular matrix of the subplate. Recent advances in fetal MRI techniques now allow us to study the developing brain anatomy in 3D from in utero imaging. We describe a reliable segmentation protocol to delineate the boundaries of the subplate from T2-W MRI. The reliability of the protocol was evaluated in terms of intra-rater reproducibility on a subset of the subjects. We also present the first 3D quantitative analyses of temporal changes in subplate volume, thickness, and contrast from 18 to 24 PCW. Our analysis shows that firstly, global subplate volume increases in proportion with the supratentorial volume; the subplate remained approximately one-third of supratentorial volume. Secondly, we found both global and regional growth in subplate thickness and a linear increase in the median and maximum subplate thickness through the waiting period. Furthermore, we found that posterior regions—specifically the occipital pole, ventral occipito-temporal region, and planum temporale—of the developing brain underwent the most statistically significant increases in subplate thickness. During this period, the thickest region was the developing somatosensory/motor cortex. The subplate growth patterns reported here may be used as a baseline for comparison to abnormal fetal brain development.