Determination of axonal and dendritic orientation distributions within the developing cerebral cortex by diffusion tensor imaging

IEEE Trans Med Imaging. 2012 Jan;31(1):16-32. doi: 10.1109/TMI.2011.2162099. Epub 2011 Jul 14.


As neurons of the developing brain form functional circuits, they undergo morphological differentiation. In immature cerebral cortex, radially-oriented cellular processes of undifferentiated neurons impede water diffusion parallel, but not perpendicular, to the pial surface, as measured via diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging, and give rise to water diffusion anisotropy. As the cerebral cortex matures, the loss of water diffusion anisotropy accompanies cellular morphological differentiation. A quantitative relationship is proposed here to relate water diffusion anisotropy measurements directly to characteristics of neuronal morphology. This expression incorporates the effects of local diffusion anisotropy within cellular processes, as well as the effects of anisotropy in the orientations of cellular processes. To obtain experimental support for the proposed relationship, tissue from 13 and 31 day-old ferrets was stained using the rapid Golgi technique, and the 3-D orientation distribution of neuronal processes was characterized using confocal microscopic examination of reflected visible light images. Coregistration of the MRI and Golgi data enables a quantitative evaluation of the proposed theory, and excellent agreement with the theoretical results, as well as agreement with previously published values for locally-induced water diffusion anisotropy and volume fraction of the neuropil, is observed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / chemistry*
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology*
  • Coloring Agents / chemistry
  • Dendrites / chemistry*
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / methods*
  • Ferrets
  • Models, Neurological


  • Coloring Agents