Diffusion tensor imaging of normal white matter maturation from late childhood to young adulthood: Voxel-wise evaluation of mean diffusivity, fractional anisotropy, radial and axial diffusivities, and correlation with reading development

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Abstract

Using diffusion tensor MR imaging (DTI) and advanced voxel-wise analysis tools, we study diffusivity and anisotropy changes of white matter from late childhood to young adulthood, and correlate quantitative diffusion indices with Chinese and English reading performance scores. Seventy-five normal healthy school going ethnic Chinese students and young adults of three age groups were recruited (group 1,n= 24, mean ± SD = 7.4 ± 0.3 years; group 2,n= 27, mean ± SD = 10.3 ± 0.5 years; group 3,n= 24, mean ± SD = 22.8 ± 2.3 years). DTI was performed with 3 mm isotropic resolution to cover the entire brain. Voxel-wise analysis was performed using Tract-Based Spatial Statistics (TBSS) to localize regions of white matter showing significant changes of fractional anisotropy (FA), mean diffusivity (MD), and axial and radial diffusivities between groups. We found increased FA and decreased MD with increasing age in regions of cerebellar white matter, right temporal white matter, and a large portion of the superior frontal and parietal white matter driven by both the reduction of radial diffusivity and axial diffusivity with the former to a greater extent. Changes were continual from late childhood to young adulthood. Findings were confirmed by region-of-interest analysis in specific white matter tracts. After controlling for the effect of age, significant correlation was found between diffusion indices of the anterior limb of the left internal capsule and Chinese reading score (p= 0.05), and of the corona radiata and English reading score (p= 0.026 andp= 0.029 for left and right, respectively). These DTI indices likely reflect the multiple biological processes that occur during brain development which provide the neural substrate for ongoing functional connectivity including for reading development.

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