Multimodal evaluation of the pediatric brain: DTI and its competitors
The development of the human brain, from the fetal period until childhood, happens in a series of intertwined neurogenetical and histogenetical events that are influenced by environment. Neuronal proliferation and migration, cell aggregation, axonal ingrowth and outgrowth, dendritic arborisation, synaptic pruning and myelinisation contribute to the ‘plasticity of the developing brain’. These events taken together contribute to the establishment of adult-like neuroarchitecture required for normal brain function. With the advances in technology today, mostly due to the development of non-invasive neuroimaging tools, it is possible to analyze these structural events not only in anatomical space but also longitudinally in time. In this review we have highlighted current ‘state of the art’ neuroimaging tools. Development of the new MRI acquisition sequences (DTI, CHARMED and phase imaging) provides valuable insight into the changes of the microstructural environment of the cortex and white matter. Development of MRI imaging tools dedicated for analysis of the acquired images (i) TBSS and ROI fiber tractography, (ii) new tissue segmentation techniques and (iii) morphometric analysis of the cortical mantle (cortical thickness and convolutions) allows the researchers to map the longitudinal changes in the macrostructure of the developing brain that go hand-in-hand with the acquisition of cognitive skills during childhood. Finally, the latest and the newest technologies, like connectom analysis and resting state fMRI connectivity analysis, today, for the first time provide the opportunity to study the developing brain through the prism of maturation of the systems and networks beyond individual anatomical areas. Combining these methods in the future and modeling the hierarchical organization of the brain might ultimately help to understand the mechanisms underlying complex brain structure function relationships of normal development and of developmental disorders.