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Volume 10 (2010), Pages 135-144
Mini-Review Article

Delineating Neural Structures of Developmental Human Brains with Diffusion Tensor Imaging

Advanced Imaging Research Center, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX, USA

Received 15 December 2009; Revised 8 January 2010; Accepted 11 January 2010

Academic Editor: Sergi Ferre

Copyright © 2010 Hao Huang.


The human brain anatomy is characterized by dramatic structural changes during fetal development. It is extraordinarily complex and yet its origin is a simple tubular structure. Revealing detailed anatomy at different stages of brain development not only aids in understanding this highly ordered process, but also provides clues to detect abnormalities caused by genetic or environmental factors. However, anatomical studies of human brain development during the fetal period are surprisingly scarce and histology-based atlases have become available only recently. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) measures water diffusion to delineate the underlying neural structures. The high contrasts derived from DTI can be used to establish the brain atlas. With DTI tractography, coherent neural structures, such as white matter tracts, can be three-dimensionally reconstructed. The primary eigenvector of the diffusion tensor can be further explored to characterize microstructures in the cerebral wall of the developmental brains. In this mini-review, the application of DTI in order to reveal the structures of developmental fetal brains has been reviewed in the above-mentioned aspects. The fetal brain DTI provides a unique insight for delineating the neural structures in both macroscopic and microscopic levels. The resultant DTI database will provide structural guidance for the developmental study of human fetal brains in basic neuroscience, and reference standards for diagnostic radiology of premature newborns.