We combined diffusion MRI (dMRI) with quantitative T1 (qT1) relaxometry in a sample of school-aged children born preterm and full term to determine whether reduced fractional anisotropy (FA) within the corpus callosum of the preterm group could be explained by a reduction in myelin content, as indexed by R1 (1/T1) from qT1 scans.
8-year-old children born preterm (n = 29; GA 22-32 weeks) and full term (n = 24) underwent dMRI and qT1 scans. Four subdivisions of the corpus callosum were segmented in individual native space according to cortical projection zones (occipital, temporal, motor and anterior-frontal). Fractional anisotropy (FA) and R1 were quantified along the tract trajectory of each subdivision and compared across two birth groups.
Compared to controls, preterm children demonstrated significantly decreased FA in 3 of 4 analyzed corpus callosum subdivisions (temporal, motor, and anterior frontal segments) and decreased R1 in only 2 of 4 corpus callosum subdivisions (temporal and motor segments). FA and RD were significantly associated with R1 within temporal but not anterior frontal subdivisions of the corpus callosum in the term group; RD correlated with R1 in the anterior subdivision in the preterm group only.
Myelin content, as indexed by R1, drives some but not all of the differences in white matter between preterm and term born children. Other factors, such as axonal diameter and directional coherence, likely contributed to FA differences in the anterior frontal segment of the corpus callosum that were not well explained by R1.