Although pregnancy-induced hormonal changes have been shown to alter the brain at the neuronal level, the exact effects of pregnancy on brain at the tissue level remain unclear. In this study, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and resting-state functional MRI (rsfMRI) were employed to investigate and document the effects of pregnancy on the structure and function of the brain tissues. Fifteen Sprague-Dawley female rats were longitudinally studied at three days before mating (baseline) and seventeen days after mating (G17). G17 is equivalent to the early stage of the third trimester in humans. Seven age-matched nulliparous female rats served as non-pregnant controls and were scanned at the same time-points. For DTI, diffusivity was found to generally increase in the whole brain during pregnancy, indicating structural changes at microscopic levels that facilitated water molecular movement. Regionally, mean diffusivity increased more pronouncedly in the dorsal hippocampus while fractional anisotropy in the dorsal dentate gyrus increased significantly during pregnancy. For rsfMRI, bilateral functional connectivity in the hippocampus increased significantly during pregnancy. Moreover, fractional anisotropy increase in the dentate gyrus appeared to correlate with the bilateral functional connectivity increase in the hippocampus. These findings revealed tissue structural modifications in the whole brain during pregnancy, and that the hippocampus was structurally and functionally remodeled in a more marked manner
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