Objective. To investigate preterm infants, we have installed in our neonatal intensive care unit a dedicated magnetic resonance (MR) imaging system which was specifically designed for neonatal use. The aim of this study was to describe the MR appearances of the brain in preterm infants who were first scanned between 25 and 32 weeks gestational age (GA) and to outline changes to the brains of these infants between their first scan and term.

Methods. Preterm infants of 25 to 32 weeks GA were imaged using the 1T neonatal MR system (Oxford Magnet Technology, Eyensham, Oxfordshire, England/Picker International, Cleveland, OH). The scanning protocol included T1-weighted conventional spin echo (repetition time [TR], 600; echo time, 20 ms), inversion recovery fast spin echo (TR, 3530; effective echo time, 30; inversion time, 950 ms), and T2-weighted fast spin echo (TR, 3500; effective echo time, 208 ms) sequences.

Results. Seventeen infants of median 28 weeks GA (range, 24 to 31 weeks) at birth were imaged a total of 53 times between birth and term. The median number of images per infant was two (range, 1 to 9). In infants of <30 weeks GA, the germinal matrix was visualized at the margins of the lateral ventricles. It had a short T1 and short T2 and the bulk of it involuted at between 30 and 32 weeks GA. The white matter had a relatively homogeneous low signal except for bands of altered signal (probably originating from regions containing radial glia and migrating cells) which were most apparent anterolateral and posterolateral to the lateral ventricles. Myelination was seen in the posterior brainstem, cerebellum, and region of the ventrolateral nuclei of the thalamus. Infants had very little cortical folding at 25 weeks GA but this developed later in an orderly fashion.

Conclusion. The neonatal MR system allowed extremely preterm infants to be studied safely with MR imaging. The images acquired demonstrated the germinal matrix, early myelination, and early cortical folding. Evolution of these features was demonstrated with serial studies.

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