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Neurotherapeutics. 2007 Jul;4(3):316-29.

Diffusion tensor imaging of the brain.

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Department of Medical Physics, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is a promising method for characterizing microstructural changes or differences with neuropathology and treatment. The diffusion tensor may be used to characterize the magnitude, the degree of anisotropy, and the orientation of directional diffusion. This review addresses the biological mechanisms, acquisition, and analysis of DTI measurements. The relationships between DTI measures and white matter pathologic features (e.g., ischemia, myelination, axonal damage, inflammation, and edema) are summarized. Applications of DTI to tissue characterization in neurotherapeutic applications are reviewed. The interpretations of common DTI measures (mean diffusivity, MD; fractional anisotropy, FA; radial diffusivity, D(r); and axial diffusivity, D(a)) are discussed. In particular, FA is highly sensitive to microstructural changes, but not very specific to the type of changes (e.g., radial or axial). To maximize the specificity and better characterize the tissue microstructure, future studies should use multiple diffusion tensor measures (e.g., MD and FA, or D(a) and D(r)).

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