INTRODUCTION: The accurate and precise measurement of brain volumes in young children is important for early identification of children with reduced brain volumes and an increased risk for neurodevelopmental impairment. Brain volumes can be measured from cerebral MRI (cMRI), but most neuroimaging tools used for cerebral segmentation and volumetry were developed for use in adults and have not been validated in infants or young children. Here, we investigate the feasibility and accuracy of three automated software methods (i.e., SPM, FSL, and FreeSurfer) for brain volumetry in young children and compare the measures with corresponding volumes obtained using the Cavalieri method of modern design stereology.
METHODS: Cerebral MRI data were collected from 21 children with a complex congenital heart disease (CHD) before Fontan procedure, at a median age of 27 months (range 20.9-42.4 months). Data were segmented with SPM, FSL, and FreeSurfer, and total intracranial volume (ICV) and total brain volume (TBV) were compared with corresponding measures obtained using the Cavalieri method.
RESULTS: Agreement between the estimated brain volumes (ICV and TBV) relative to the gold standard stereological volumes was strongest for FreeSurfer (p < 0.001) and moderate for SPM segment (ICV p = 0.05; TBV p = 0.006). No significant association was evident between ICV and TBV obtained using SPM NewSegment and FSL FAST and the corresponding stereological volumes.
CONCLUSIONS: FreeSurfer provides an accurate method for measuring brain volumes in young children, even in the presence of structural brain abnormalities.