Microstructural parameter estimation in vivo using diffusion MRI and structured prior information

Magn Reson Med. 2016 Apr;75(4):1787-96. doi: 10.1002/mrm.25723. Epub 2015 May 20.


Purpose: Diffusion MRI has recently been used with detailed models to probe tissue microstructure. Much of this work has been performed ex vivo with powerful scanner hardware, to gain sensitivity to parameters such as axon radius. By contrast, performing microstructure imaging on clinical scanners is extremely challenging.

Methods: We use an optimized dual spin-echo diffusion protocol, and a Bayesian fitting approach, to obtain reproducible contrast (histogram overlap of up to 92%) in estimated maps of axon radius index in healthy adults at a modest, widely-available gradient strength (35 mT m(-1)). A key innovation is the use of influential priors.

Results: We demonstrate that our priors can improve precision in axon radius estimates--a 7-fold reduction in voxelwise coefficient of variation in vivo--without significant bias. Our results may reflect true axon radius differences between white matter regions, but this interpretation should be treated with caution due to the complexity of the tissue relative to our model.

Conclusions: Some sensitivity to relatively large axons (3-15 μm) may be available at clinical field and gradient strengths. Future applications at higher gradient strength will benefit from the favorable eddy current properties of the dual spin-echo sequence, and greater precision available with suitable priors. Magnetic Resonance in Medicine published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of International Society for Magnetic Resonance.

Keywords: Bayesian; MCMC; dual spin-echo; microstructure; prior; twice-refocused spin-echo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Corpus Callosum / diagnostic imaging
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Young Adult