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NMR Biomed. 2019 Apr;32(4):e3841. doi: 10.1002/nbm.3841. Epub 2017 Nov 29.

Imaging brain microstructure with diffusion MRI: practicality and applications.

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Centre for Medical Image Computing (CMIC), Department of Computer Science, UCL (University College London), Gower Street, London, UK.
Danish Research Centre for Magnetic Resonance, Center for Functional and Diagnostic Imaging and Research, Copenhagen University Hospital Hvidovre, Hvidovre, Denmark.
Department of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science, Technical University of Denmark, Kongens Lyngby, Denmark.
Clinical Sciences Lund, Department of Radiology, Lund University, Lund, Sweden.


This article gives an overview of microstructure imaging of the brain with diffusion MRI and reviews the state of the art. The microstructure-imaging paradigm aims to estimate and map microscopic properties of tissue using a model that links these properties to the voxel scale MR signal. Imaging techniques of this type are just starting to make the transition from the technical research domain to wide application in biomedical studies. We focus here on the practicalities of both implementing such techniques and using them in applications. Specifically, the article summarizes the relevant aspects of brain microanatomy and the range of diffusion-weighted MR measurements that provide sensitivity to them. It then reviews the evolution of mathematical and computational models that relate the diffusion MR signal to brain tissue microstructure, as well as the expanding areas of application. Next we focus on practicalities of designing a working microstructure imaging technique: model selection, experiment design, parameter estimation, validation, and the pipeline of development of this class of technique. The article concludes with some future perspectives on opportunities in this topic and expectations on how the field will evolve in the short-to-medium term.


brain; diffusion MRI; magnetic resonance imaging; microstructure imaging; neuroimaging; quantitative imaging; virtual histology


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