Characterization of tissue structure at varying length scales using temporal diffusion spectroscopy

NMR Biomed. 2010 Aug;23(7):745-56. doi: 10.1002/nbm.1531.


The concepts, theoretical behavior and experimental applications of temporal diffusion spectroscopy are reviewed and illustrated. Temporal diffusion spectra are obtained using oscillating-gradient waveforms in diffusion-weighted measurements, and represent the manner in which various spectral components of molecular velocity correlations vary in different geometrical structures that restrict or hinder free movements. Measurements made at different gradient frequencies reveal information on the scale of restrictions or hindrances to free diffusion, and the shape of a spectrum reveals the relative contributions of spatial restrictions at different distance scales. Such spectra differ from other so-called diffusion spectra which depict spatial frequencies and are defined at a fixed diffusion time. Experimentally, oscillating gradients at moderate frequency are more feasible for exploring restrictions at very short distances which, in tissues, correspond to structures smaller than cells. We describe the underlying concepts of temporal diffusion spectra and provide analytical expressions for the behavior of the diffusion coefficient as a function of gradient frequency in simple geometries with different dimensions. Diffusion in more complex model media that mimic tissues has been simulated using numerical methods. Experimental measurements of diffusion spectra have been obtained in suspensions of particles and cells, as well as in vivo in intact animals. An observation of particular interest is the increased contrast and heterogeneity observed in tumors using oscillating gradients at moderate frequency compared with conventional pulse gradient methods, and the potential for detecting changes in tumors early in their response to treatment. Computer simulations suggest that diffusion spectral measurements may be sensitive to intracellular structures, such as nuclear size, and that changes in tissue diffusion properties may be measured before there are changes in cell density.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology
  • Cells / ultrastructure*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods*
  • Mathematics
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Neoplasms / pathology