Comparison of cortical folding measures for evaluation of developing human brain

We evaluated 22 measures of cortical folding, 20 derived from local curvature (curvature-based measures) and two based on other features (sulcal depth and gyrification index), for their capacity to distinguish between normal and aberrant cortical development. Cortical surfaces were reconstructed from 12 term-born control and 63 prematurely-born infants. Preterm infants underwent 2–4 MR imaging sessions between 27 and 42 weeks postmenstrual age (PMA). Term infants underwent a single MR imaging session during the first postnatal week. Preterm infants were divided into two groups. One group (38 infants) had no/minimal abnormalities on qualitative assessment of conventional MR images. The second group (25 infants) consisted of infants with injury on conventional MRI at term equivalent PMA. For both preterm infant groups, all folding measures increased or decreased monotonically with increasing PMA, but only sulcal depth and gyrification index differentiated preterm infants with brain injury from those without. We also compared scans obtained at term equivalent PMA (36–42 weeks) for all three groups. No curvature-based measured distinguished between the groups, whereas sulcal depth distinguished term control from injured preterm infants and gyrification index distinguished all three groups. When incorporating total cerebral volume into the statistical model, sulcal depth no longer distinguished between the groups, though gyrification index distinguished between all three groups and positive shape index distinguished between the term control and uninjured preterm groups. We also analyzed folding measures averaged over brain lobes separately. These results demonstrated similar patterns to those obtained from the whole brain analyses. Overall, though the curvature-based measures changed during this period of rapid cerebral development, they were not sensitive for detecting the differences in folding associated with brain injury and/or preterm birth. In contrast, gyrification index was effective in differentiating these groups.