Background: Brain microstructural maturation progresses rapidly in the third trimester of gestation and first weeks of life, but typical microstructural development may be influenced by the presence of critical congenital heart disease (CHD).
Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate the pattern of white matter (WM) microstructural development in neonates with different types of critical CHD. The secondary aim was to examine whether there is an association between WM microstructural maturity and neonatal ischemic brain injury.
Methods: For this prospective, longitudinal cohort study, 74 term born neonates underwent diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) before (N = 56) and after (N = 71) cardiac surgery performed <30 days of life for transposition of the great arteries (TGA), single ventricle physiology with aortic arch obstruction (SVP-AO), left-(LVOTO) or right ventricle outflow tract obstruction (RVOTO). Microstructural integrity was investigated by fractional anisotropy (FA) and by mean diffusivity (MD) in 16 white matter (WM) structures in three WM regions with correction for postmenstrual age. Ischemic brain injury was defined as moderate-severe white matter injury or stroke.
Results: Before cardiac surgery, the posterior parts of the corona radiata and internal capsule showed significantly higher FA and lower MD compared to the anterior parts. Centrally-located WM structures demonstrated higher FA compared to peripherally-located structures. Neonates with TGA had higher FA in projection-, association- and commissural WM before surgery, when compared to other CHD groups. Neonates with LVOTO showed lower preoperative MD in these regions, and neonates with SVP-AO higher MD. Differences in FA/MD between CHD groups were most clear in centrally located WM structures. Between CHD groups, no differences in postoperative FA/MD or in change from pre-to postoperative FA/MD were seen. Neonatal ischemic brain injury was not associated with pre- or postoperative FA/MD.
Conclusions: Collectively, these findings revealed brain microstructural WM development to follow the same organized pattern in critical CHD as reported in healthy and preterm neonates, from posterior-to-anterior and central-to-peripheral. Neonates with TGA and LVOTO showed the most mature WM microstructure before surgery and SVP-AO the least mature. Degree of WM microstructural immaturity was not associated with ischemic brain injury.