Diffusion tensor imaging detects and differentiates axon and myelin degeneration in mouse optic nerve after retinal ischemia

Neuroimage. 2003 Nov;20(3):1714-22. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2003.07.005.


Both axon and myelin degeneration have significant impact on the long-term disability of patients with white matter disorder. However, the clinical manifestations of the neurological dysfunction caused by white matter disorders are not sufficient to determine the origin of neurological deficits. A noninvasive biological marker capable of detecting and differentiating axon and myelin degeneration would be a significant addition to currently available tools. Directional diffusivities derived from diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) have been previously proposed by this group as potential biological markers to detect and differentiate axon and myelin degeneration. To further test the hypothesis that axial (lambdaparallel) and radial (lambdaperpendicular) diffusivities reflect axon and myelin pathologies, respectively, the optic nerve was examined serially using DTI in a mouse model of retinal ischemia. A significant decrease of lambdaparallel, the putative DTI axonal marker, was observed 3 days after ischemia without concurrently detectable changes in lambdaperpendicular, the putative myelin marker. This result is consistent with histological findings of significant axonal degeneration with no detectable demyelination at 3 days after ischemia. The elevation of lambdaperpendicular observed 5 days after ischemia is consistent with histological findings of myelin degeneration at this time. These results support the hypothesis that lambdaparallel and lambdaperpendicular hold promise as specific markers of axonal and myelin injury, respectively, and, further, that the coexistence of axonal and myelin degeneration does not confound this utility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Ischemia / pathology*
  • Mice
  • Models, Neurological
  • Myelin Basic Protein / metabolism
  • Myelin Sheath / physiology*
  • Nerve Degeneration / physiopathology*
  • Neurofilament Proteins / metabolism
  • Optic Nerve / pathology*
  • Retinal Degeneration / pathology
  • Retinal Vessels / physiology*
  • Wallerian Degeneration / pathology


  • Myelin Basic Protein
  • Neurofilament Proteins