First use of high-field MRI in developing brain reveals previously undetectable injuries

November 7, 2011, Oregon Health & Science University

Pediatric neuroscientists at Oregon Health & Science University Doernbecher Children's Hospital are the first to use high magnetic field strength MRI to reveal tiny white matter injuries in the developing brain previously undetectable using standard MRI.

Early, accurate identification of these lesions in the preterm human infant could prevent delays in therapy and enable physicians to inform families sooner of the potential for complications. The team's findings are published in the Annals of Neurology.

White matter injury is the most common cause of chronic neurologic disability in children with cerebral palsy, explains principal investigator Stephen Back, M.D., Ph.D., but babies with cerebral palsy often have MRIs that miss injury, which creates significant challenges, including delayed treatment intervention and rehabilitation.

"Until now there hasn't been a compelling reason to put preterm babies into a high-field MRI scanner. Our work indicates the magnetic field strength of current clinical MRI may be a limiting factor to detecting some white matter lesions in the preterm infant. Now that we can detect this injury, we also hope our findings may encourage MRI researchers to find more sensitive means to detect this injury with lower field MRIs that are widely available," said Back, an associate professor of pediatrics and neurology in the Papé Family Pediatric Research Institute at OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital.

High-field MRI scanners are still mostly used as a research tool and not widely available outside of specialized MRI research centers like OHSU, Back added.

White matter injury occurs during development when nerve fibers are actively being wrapped in myelin, the insulation that allows nerve fibers to rapidly transmit signals in the brain. The cells required to make myelin can be easily destroyed when blood flow to the developing brain falls below normal or when maternal infection occurs during pregnancy. The loss of these cells disrupts brain maturation and results in failure to make the myelin required for normal brain function.

Preterm infants are particularly susceptible to these injuries, which can result in lifelong impairments, including inability to walk as well as intellectual challenges.

In this study, using high-field MRI (12-Tesla), Back and colleagues were able to identify tiny brain lesions in preterm fetal sheep with characteristics previously unseen and unreported using a standard 3-T MRI. Prior to this study, progress to developing treatments for white matter injury in the preterm infant had been hampered by clinicians' inability to see these microscopic injuries, and just one tiny lesion can have a tremendous impact on the patient's ability to walk and learn.

"Our findings support the potential of using high-field MRI for early identification, improved diagnosis and prognosis of injury in the preterm infant, and our large preclinical animal model provides unique experimental access to questions directed at the cause of these lesions, as well as the optimal field strength and modality to resolve evolving lesions using MRI."

Future studies are needed to determine the clinical-translational utility of high-field MRI, Back added.

Explore further: Hope for infant brain injuries like cerebral palsy as well as multiple sclerosis

Related Stories

Hope for infant brain injuries like cerebral palsy as well as multiple sclerosis

June 27, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- In a new study published in Nature Neuroscience, a team of researchers revealed the discovery of a key protein necessary for nerve repair and could lead to the development of a treatment for brain injuries ...

Preterm infants exposed to stressors in NICU display reduced brain size

October 4, 2011
New research shows that exposure to stressors in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is associated with alterations in the brain structure and function of very preterm infants. According to the study now available in ...

Recommended for you

Finding unravels nature of cognitive inflexibility in fragile X syndrome

January 22, 2018
Mice with the genetic defect that causes fragile X syndrome (FXS) learn and remember normally, but show an inability to learn new information that contradicts what they initially learned, shows a new study by a team of neuroscientists. ...

Epilepsy linked to brain volume and thickness differences

January 22, 2018
Epilepsy is associated with thickness and volume differences in the grey matter of several brain regions, according to new research led by UCL and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.