Longitudinal atlas for normative human brain development and aging over the lifespan using quantitative susceptibility mapping

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Longitudinal brain atlases play an important role in the study of human brain development and cognition. Existing atlases are mainly based on anatomical features derived from T1-and T2-weighted MRI. A 4D developmental quantitative susceptibility mapping (QSM) atlas may facilitate the estimation of age-related iron changes in deep gray matter nuclei and myelin changes in white matter. To this end, group-wise co-registered QSM templates were generated over various age intervals from age 1–83 years old. Registration was achieved by combining both T1-weighted and QSM images. Based on the proposed template, we created an accurate deep gray matter nuclei parcellation map (DGM map). Notably, we segmented thalamus into 5 sub-regions, i.e. the anterior nuclei, the median nuclei, the lateral nuclei, the pulvinar and the internal medullary lamina. Furthermore, we built a “whole brain QSM parcellation map” by combining existing cortical parcellation and white-matter atlases with the proposed DGM map. Based on the proposed QSM atlas, the segmentation accuracy of iron-rich nuclei using QSM is significantly improved, especially for children and adolescent subjects. The age-related progression of magnetic susceptibility in each of the deep gray matter nuclei, the hippocampus, and the amygdala was estimated. Our automated atlas-based analysis provided a systematic confirmation of previous findings on susceptibility progression with age resulting from manual ROI drawings in deep gray matter nuclei. The susceptibility development in the hippocampus and the amygdala follow an iron accumulation model; while in the thalamus sub-regions, the susceptibility development exhibits a variety of trends. It is envisioned that the newly developed 4D QSM atlas will serve as a template for studying brain iron deposition and myelination/demyelination in both normal aging and various brain diseases.

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