A model for diffusion in white matter in the brain

Biophys J. 2005 Nov;89(5):2927-38. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.105.063016. Epub 2005 Aug 12.


Diffusion of molecules in brain and other tissues is important in a wide range of biological processes and measurements ranging from the delivery of drugs to diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging. Diffusion tensor imaging is a powerful noninvasive method to characterize neuronal tissue in the human brain in vivo. As a first step toward understanding the relationship between the measured macroscopic apparent diffusion tensor and underlying microscopic compartmental geometry and physical properties, we treat a white matter fascicle as an array of identical thick-walled cylindrical tubes arranged periodically in a regular lattice and immersed in an outer medium. Both square and hexagonal arrays are considered. The diffusing molecules may have different diffusion coefficients and concentrations (or densities) in different domains, namely within the tubes' inner core, membrane, myelin sheath, and within the outer medium. Analytical results are used to explore the effects of a large range of microstructural and compositional parameters on the apparent diffusion tensor and the degree of diffusion anisotropy, allowing the characterization of diffusion in normal physiological conditions as well as changes occurring in development, disease, and aging. Implications for diffusion tensor imaging and for the possible in situ estimation of microstructural parameters from diffusion-weighted MR data are discussed in the context of this modeling framework.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Anisotropy
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Central Nervous System / pathology
  • Diffusion
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Statistical
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Myelin Sheath / chemistry
  • Neurons / metabolism