In vivo correlation between axon diameter and conduction velocity in the human brain

Brain Struct Funct. 2015;220(3):1777-88. doi: 10.1007/s00429-014-0871-0. Epub 2014 Aug 20.


The understanding of the relationship between structure and function has always characterized biology in general and neurobiology in particular. One such fundamental relationship is that between axon diameter and the axon's conduction velocity (ACV). Measurement of these neuronal properties, however, requires invasive procedures that preclude direct elucidation of this relationship in vivo. Here we demonstrate that diffusion-based MRI is sensitive to the fine microstructural elements of brain wiring and can be used to quantify axon diameter in vivo. Moreover, we demonstrate the in vivo correlation between the diameter of an axon and its conduction velocity in the human brain. Using AxCaliber, a novel magnetic resonance imaging technique that enables us to estimate in vivo axon diameter distribution (ADD) and by measuring the interhemispheric transfer time (IHTT) by electroencephalography, we found significant linear correlation, across a cohort of subjects, between brain microstructure morphology (ADD) and its physiology (ACV) in the tactile and visual sensory domains. The ability to make a quantitative assessment of a fundamental physiological property in the human brain from in vivo measurements of ADD may shed new light on neurological processes occurring in neuroplasticity as well as in neurological disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / instrumentation
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Male
  • Neural Conduction / physiology*
  • Touch Perception / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology
  • Young Adult