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Brain Connect. 2014 Nov;4(9):718-26. doi: 10.1089/brain.2014.0305.

Investigating the capability to resolve complex white matter structures with high b-value diffusion magnetic resonance imaging on the MGH-USC Connectom scanner.

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1 Department of Radiology, Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital , Charlestown, Massachusetts.


One of the major goals of the NIH Blueprint Human Connectome Project was to map and quantify the white matter connections in the brain using diffusion tractography. Given the prevalence of complex white matter structures, the capability of resolving local white matter geometries with multiple crossings in the diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) data is critical. Increasing b-value has been suggested for delineation of the finer details of the orientation distribution function (ODF). Although increased gradient strength and duration increase sensitivity to highly restricted intra-axonal water, gradient strength limitations require longer echo times (TE) to accommodate the increased diffusion encoding times needed to achieve a higher b-value, exponentially lowering the signal-to-noise ratio of the acquisition. To mitigate this effect, the MGH-USC Connectom scanner was built with 300 mT/m gradients, which can significantly reduce the TE of high b-value diffusion imaging. Here we report comparisons performed across b-values based on q-ball ODF metrics to investigate whether high b-value diffusion imaging on the Connectom scanner can improve resolving complex white matter structures. The q-ball ODF features became sharper as the b-value increased, with increased power fraction in higher order spherical harmonic series of the ODF and increased peak heights relative to the overall size of the ODF. Crossing structures were detected in an increasingly larger fraction of white matter voxels and the spatial distribution of two-way and three-way crossing structures was largely consistent with known anatomy. Results indicate that dMRI with high diffusion encoding on the Connectom system is a promising tool to better characterize, and ultimately understand, the underlying structural organization and motifs in the human brain.


HARDI; Human Connectome Project; diffusion MRI; high b-value; multi-shell acquisition; structural connectivity

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