Understanding diffusion MR imaging techniques: from scalar diffusion-weighted imaging to diffusion tensor imaging and beyond

Radiographics. 2006 Oct;26 Suppl 1:S205-23. doi: 10.1148/rg.26si065510.


The complex structural organization of the white matter of the brain can be depicted in vivo in great detail with advanced diffusion magnetic resonance (MR) imaging schemes. Diffusion MR imaging techniques are increasingly varied, from the simplest and most commonly used technique-the mapping of apparent diffusion coefficient values-to the more complex, such as diffusion tensor imaging, q-ball imaging, diffusion spectrum imaging, and tractography. The type of structural information obtained differs according to the technique used. To fully understand how diffusion MR imaging works, it is helpful to be familiar with the physical principles of water diffusion in the brain and the conceptual basis of each imaging technique. Knowledge of the technique-specific requirements with regard to hardware and acquisition time, as well as the advantages, limitations, and potential interpretation pitfalls of each technique, is especially useful.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Water / metabolism*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Humans
  • Image Enhancement / methods*
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods
  • Models, Neurological
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / ultrastructure*