Intrauterine growth restriction is associated with short- and long-term neurodevelopmental problems. Structural brain changes underlying these alterations have been described with the use of different magnetic resonance–based methods that include changes in whole structural brain networks. However, evaluation of specific brain circuits and its correlation with related functions has not been investigated in intrauterine growth restriction.OBJECTIVES:
In this study, we aimed to investigate differences in tractography-related metrics in cortico-striatal-thalamic and motor networks in intrauterine growth restricted children and whether these parameters were related with their specific function in order to explore its potential use as an imaging biomarker of altered neurodevelopment.METHODS:
We included a group of 24 intrauterine growth restriction subjects and 27 control subjects that were scanned at 1 year old; we acquired T1-weighted and 30 directions diffusion magnetic resonance images. Each subject brain was segmented in 93 regions with the use of anatomical automatic labeling atlas, and deterministic tractography was performed. Brain regions included in motor and cortico-striatal-thalamic networks were defined based in functional and anatomic criteria. Within the streamlines that resulted from the whole brain tractography, those belonging to each specific circuit were selected and tractography-related metrics that included number of streamlines, fractional anisotropy, and integrity were calculated for each network. We evaluated differences between both groups and further explored the correlation of these parameters with the results of socioemotional, cognitive, and motor scales from Bayley Scale at 2 years of age.RESULTS:
Reduced fractional anisotropy (cortico-striatal-thalamic, 0.319 ± 0.018 vs 0.315 ± 0.015; P = .010; motor, 0.322 ± 0.019 vs 0.319 ± 0.020; P = .019) and integrity cortico-striatal-thalamic (0.407 ± 0.040 vs 0.399 ± 0.034; P = .018; motor, 0.417 ± 0.044 vs 0.409 ± 0.046; P = .016) in both networks were observed in the intrauterine growth restriction group, with no differences in number of streamlines. More importantly, strong specific correlation was found between tractography-related metrics and its relative function in both networks in intrauterine growth restricted children. Motor network metrics were correlated specifically with motor scale results (fractional anisotropy: rho = 0.857; integrity: rho = 0.740); cortico-striatal-thalamic network metrics were correlated with cognitive (fractional anisotropy: rho = 0.793; integrity, rho = 0.762) and socioemotional scale (fractional anisotropy: rho = 0.850; integrity: rho = 0.877).CONCLUSIONS:
These results support the existence of altered brain connectivity in intrauterine growth restriction demonstrated by altered connectivity in motor and cortico-striatal-thalamic networks, with reduced fractional anisotropy and integrity. The specific correlation between tractography-related metrics and neurodevelopmental outcomes in intrauterine growth restriction shows the potential to use this approach to develop imaging biomarkers to predict specific neurodevelopmental outcome in infants who are at risk because of intrauterine growth restriction and other prenatal diseases.