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Diffusion tensor imaging of human brain development Open Access


Other title
fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Lebel, Catherine
Supervisor and department
Beaulieu, Christian (Biomedical Engineering)
Examining committee member and department
Phillips, Linda (Canadian Centre for Research on Literacy)
Alexander, Andrew (Medical Physics, University of Wisconsin)
Wilman, Alan (Biomedical Engineering)
Thompson, Richard (Biomedical Engineering)
Gross, Donald (Neurology)
Medical Sciences - Biomedical Engineering

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Structural brain changes occur in a complex manner throughout life, and understanding healthy brain development is crucial for the study of brain abnormalities in various conditions. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is an advanced magnetic resonance imaging technique that provides information about tissue microstructure not accessible via conventional imaging methods. In this dissertation, DTI is used to assess typical brain development, brain abnormalities in fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), and relationships between cognition and brain structure in both populations. Cross-sectional and longitudinal DTI studies were used to measure brain maturation from childhood to adulthood. Significant, nonlinear changes of diffusion parameters were noted across the brain, with regional variation in the timing and magnitude of development. Most regions experienced rapid maturation during childhood and adolescence, reached a developmental peak during adulthood, and then, during senescence, underwent a reversal of structural changes that occurred more gradually than the initial development. The genu and splenium of the corpus callosum had the earliest development, while frontal-temporal connections and the corticospinal tracts showed the most prolonged maturation trajectories. DTI was also used to examine brain abnormalities in children with FASD, an acquired brain disorder associated with numerous cognitive, behavioural, and emotional difficulties. DTI revealed widespread differences in children with FASD when compared to healthy controls, suggesting extensive structural brain damage. Finally, significant relationships between cognitive abilities and brain structure were observed in both populations. Brain lateralization of a frontal-temporal pathway correlated with two specific cognitive abilities in typically-developing children. Additionally, a significant relationship between brain structure and mathematical ability was observed in the left parietal lobe of children with FASD. Preliminary results demonstrating reading-brain structure correlations in both healthy and FASD groups are also presented. In conclusion, DTI has shown significant age-related changes in the typically-developing human brain, abnormalities in children with FASD, and correlations between brain structure and cognition in both populations. Normative DTI studies such as the ones presented here are important to establish healthy milestones of brain development and degradation, which may then be used to understand abnormalities in a variety of conditions, including FASD.
License granted by Catherine Lebel ( on 2010-08-06T21:27:13Z (GMT): Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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