Diffusional kurtosis imaging (DKI) is a clinically feasible extension of diffusion tensor imaging that probes restricted water diffusion in biological tissues using magnetic resonance imaging. Here we provide a physically meaningful interpretation of DKI metrics in white matter regions consisting of more or less parallel aligned fiber bundles by modeling the tissue as two non-exchanging compartments, the intra-axonal space and extra-axonal space. For the b-values typically used in DKI, the diffusion in each compartment is assumed to be anisotropic Gaussian and characterized by a diffusion tensor. The principal parameters of interest for the model include the intra- and extra-axonal diffusion tensors, the axonal water fraction and the tortuosity of the extra-axonal space. A key feature is that these can be determined directly from the diffusion metrics conventionally obtained with DKI. For three healthy young adults, the model parameters are estimated from the DKI metrics and shown to be consistent with literature values. In addition, as a partial validation of this DKI-based approach, we demonstrate good agreement between the DKI-derived axonal water fraction and the slow diffusion water fraction obtained from standard biexponential fitting to high b-value diffusion data. Combining the proposed WM model with DKI provides a convenient method for the clinical assessment of white matter in health and disease and could potentially provide important information on neurodegenerative disorders.
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