Characterization of cerebral white matter properties using quantitative magnetic resonance imaging stains

Brain Connect. 2011;1(6):423-46. doi: 10.1089/brain.2011.0071. Epub 2012 Jan 27.


The image contrast in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is highly sensitive to several mechanisms that are modulated by the properties of the tissue environment. The degree and type of contrast weighting may be viewed as image filters that accentuate specific tissue properties. Maps of quantitative measures of these mechanisms, akin to microstructural/environmental-specific tissue stains, may be generated to characterize the MRI and physiological properties of biological tissues. In this article, three quantitative MRI (qMRI) methods for characterizing white matter (WM) microstructural properties are reviewed. All of these measures measure complementary aspects of how water interacts with the tissue environment. Diffusion MRI, including diffusion tensor imaging, characterizes the diffusion of water in the tissues and is sensitive to the microstructural density, spacing, and orientational organization of tissue membranes, including myelin. Magnetization transfer imaging characterizes the amount and degree of magnetization exchange between free water and macromolecules like proteins found in the myelin bilayers. Relaxometry measures the MRI relaxation constants T1 and T2, which in WM have a component associated with the water trapped in the myelin bilayers. The conduction of signals between distant brain regions occurs primarily through myelinated WM tracts; thus, these methods are potential indicators of pathology and structural connectivity in the brain. This article provides an overview of the qMRI stain mechanisms, acquisition and analysis strategies, and applications for these qMRI stains.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Chemistry / physiology*
  • Coloring Agents*
  • Contrast Media
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / pathology
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / physiology*


  • Coloring Agents
  • Contrast Media