Folding, but not surface area expansion, is associated with cellular morphological maturation in the fetal cerebral cortex

Xiaojie Wang, Colin Studholme, Peta L. Grigsby, Antonio E. Frias, Verginia C. Cuzon Carlson, Christopher D. Kroenke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Altered macroscopic anatomical characteristics of the cerebral cortex have been identified in individuals affected by various neurodevelopmental disorders. However, the cellular developmental mechanisms that give rise to these abnormalities are not understood. Previously, advances in image reconstruction of diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have made possible high-resolution in utero measurements of water diffusion anisotropy in the fetal brain. Here, diffusion anisotropy within the developing fetal cerebral cortex is longitudinally characterized in the rhesus macaque, focusing on gestation day (G85) through G135 of the 165 d term. Additionally, for subsets of animals characterized at G90 and G135, immunohistochemical staining was performed, and 3D structure tensor analyses were used to identify the cellular processes that most closely parallel changes in water diffusion anisotropy with cerebral cortical maturation. Strong correlations were found between maturation of dendritic arbors on the cellular level and the loss of diffusion anisotropy with cortical development. Inturn, diffusionanisotropychanges werestronglyassociatedbothregionallyandtemporallywithcortical folding. Notably, the regional and temporal dependence of diffusion anisotropy and folding were distinct from the patterns observed for cerebral cortical surface area expansion. These findings strengthen the link proposed in previous studies between cellular-level changes in dendrite morphology and noninvasive diffusion MRI measurements of the developing cerebral cortex and support the possibility that, in gyroencephalic species, structural differentiation within the cortex is coupled to the formation of gyri and sulci.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1971-1983
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number8
StatePublished - Feb 22 2017


  • Brain development
  • Diffusion
  • Fetal brain
  • Gyrification
  • In utero
  • Magnetic resonance imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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