The ability to characterize white matter microstructure non-invasively has important applications for the diagnosis and follow-up of several neurological diseases. There exists a family of diffusion MRI techniques, such as AxCaliber, that provide indices of axon microstructure, such as axon diameter and density. However, to obtain accurate measurements of axons with small diameters (<5μm), these techniques require strong gradients, i.e. an order of magnitude higher than the 40-80mT/m currently available in clinical systems. In this study we acquired AxCaliber diffusion data at a variety of different q-values and diffusion times in the spinal cord of five healthy subjects using a 300mT/m whole body gradient system. Acquisition and processing were optimized using state-of-the-art methods (e.g., 64-channel coil, template-based analysis). Results consistently show an average axon diameter of 4.5+/-1.1μm in the spinal cord white matter. Diameters ranged from 3.0μm (gracilis) to 5.9μm (spinocerebellar tracts). Values were similar across laterality (left-right), but statistically different across spinal cord pathways (p<10(-5)). The observed trends are similar to those observed in animal histology. This study shows, for the first time, in vivo mapping of axon diameter in the spinal cord at 300mT/m, thus creating opportunities for applications in spinal cord diseases.
Keywords: AxCaliber; Axon diameter; Diffusion MRI; Human; Quantification; Spinal cord.
Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Inc.