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NMR Biomed. 2017 Mar;30(3). doi: 10.1002/nbm.3592. Epub 2016 Sep 6.

Diffusion MRI of the spinal cord: from structural studies to pathology.

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The Sackler School of Chemistry, The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel.
The Sagol School of Neuroscience, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel.


Diffusion MRI is extensively used to study brain microarchitecture and pathologies, and water diffusion appears highly anisotropic in the white matter (WM) of the spinal cord (SC). Despite these facts, the use of diffusion MRI to study the SC, which has increased in recent years, is much less common than that in the brain. In the present review, after a brief outline of early studies of diffusion MRI (DWI) and diffusion tensor MRI (DTI) of the SC, we provide a short survey on DTI and on diffusion MRI methods beyond the tensor that have been used to study SC microstructure and pathologies. After introducing the porous view of WM and describing the q-space approach and q-space diffusion MRI (QSI), we describe other methodologies that can be applied to study the SC. Selected applications of the use of DTI, QSI, and other more advanced diffusion MRI methods to study SC microstructure and pathologies are presented, with some emphasis on the use of less conventional diffusion methodologies. Because of length constraints, we concentrate on structural studies and on a few selected pathologies. Examples of the use of diffusion MRI to study dysmyelination, demyelination as in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis and multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and traumatic SC injury are presented. We conclude with a brief summary and a discussion of challenges and future directions for diffusion MRI of the SC.


diffusion MRI (DWI); diffusion tensor imaging (DTI); microstructure; q-space diffusion MRI (QSI); spinal cord; spinal cord pathology

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