Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) measurement of the apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) of tissue water and its relationship to cell volume changes in pathological states

Neurochem Int. 2004 Sep;45(4):569-82. doi: 10.1016/j.neuint.2003.11.010.


Diffusion-weighted nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging (DWI) is sensitive to the random translational motion of water molecules due to Brownian motion. Although the mechanism is still not completely understood, the cellular swelling that accompanies cell membrane depolarization results in a reduction in the net displacement of diffusing water molecules and thus a concomitant reduction in the apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) of tissue water. Cerebral regions of reduced ADC appear hyperintense in a DWI and this technique has been used extensively to study acute stroke. In addition to cerebral ischemia, reductions in the ADC of cerebral water have been observed following cortical spreading depression, ischemic depolarizations (IDs), transient ischemic attack (TIA), status epilepticus, and hypoglycemia. Although the mechanism responsible for initiating membrane depolarization varies in each case, the ensuing cell volume changes follow a similar pattern. Water ADC values are also affected by the presence and orientation of barriers to translational motion (such as cell membranes and myelin fibers) and thus NMR measures of anisotropic diffusion are sensitive to more chronic pathological states where the integrity of these structures is modified by disease. Both theoretical prediction and experimental evidence suggest that the ADC of tissue water is related to the volume fraction of the interstitial space via the electrical conductivity of the tissue. The implication is that acute neurological disorders that exhibit electrical conductivity changes should also exhibit ADC changes that are detectable by DWI. A qualitative correlation between electrical conductivity and the ADC of water has been demonstrated in a number of animal model studies and the results indicate that reduced ADC values are associated with reductions in the extracellular volume fraction and increased extracellular tortuosity. The close relationship between ADC changes and cell volume changes in various pathological states suggests that NMR measurements are also sensitive to chemical communication between cells through the extracellular space (i.e., extrasynaptic or volume transmission, VT).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Body Water / physiology*
  • Brain Ischemia / pathology
  • Cell Size / physiology
  • Cortical Spreading Depression
  • Diffusion
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Nervous System Diseases / pathology*
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure