Q-space analysis is an alternative analysis technique for diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) data in which the probability density function (PDF) for molecular diffusion is estimated without the need to assume a Gaussian shape. Although used in the human brain, q-space DWI has not yet been applied to study the human spinal cord in vivo. Here we demonstrate the feasibility of performing q-space imaging in the cervical spinal cord of eight healthy volunteers and four patients with multiple sclerosis. The PDF was computed and water displacement and zero-displacement probability maps were calculated from the width and height of the PDF, respectively. In the dorsal column white matter, q-space contrasts showed a significant (P < 0.01) increase in the width and a decrease in the height of the PDF in lesions, the result of increased diffusion. These q-space contrasts, which are sensitive to the slow diffusion component, exhibited improved detection of abnormal diffusion compared to perpendicular apparent diffusion constant measurements. The conspicuity of lesions compared favorably with magnetization transfer (MT)-weighted images and quantitative CSF-normalized MT measurements. Thus, q-space DWI can be used to study water diffusion in the human spinal cord in vivo and is well suited to assess white matter damage.
(c) 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.