Measuring intra-axonal T 2 in white matter with direction-averaged diffusion MRI

Magn Reson Med. 2019 May;81(5):2985-2994. doi: 10.1002/mrm.27617. Epub 2018 Dec 2.


Purpose: To demonstrate how the T2 relaxation time of intra-axonal water (T2a ) in white matter can be measured with direction-averaged diffusion MRI.

Methods: For b-values larger than about 4000 s/mm2 , the direction-averaged diffusion MRI signal from white matter is dominated by the contribution from water within axons, which enables T2a to be estimated by acquiring data for multiple TE values and fitting a mono-exponential decay curve. If given a value of the intra-axonal diffusivity, an extension of the method allows the extra-axonal relaxation time (T2e ) to be calculated also. This approach was applied to estimate T2a in white matter for 3 healthy subjects at 3 T, as well as T2e for a selected set of assumed intra-axonal diffusivities.

Results: The estimated T2a values ranged from about 50 ms to 110 ms, with considerable variation among white matter regions. For white matter tracts with primarily collinear fibers, T2a was found to depend on the angle of the tract relative to the main magnetic field, which is consistent with T2a being affected by magnetic field inhomogeneities arising from spatial differences in magnetic susceptibility. The T2e values were significantly smaller than the T2a values across white matter regions for several plausible choices of the intra-axonal diffusivity.

Conclusion: The relaxation time for intra-axonal water in white matter can be determined in a straightforward manner by measuring the direction-averaged diffusion MRI signal with a large b-value for multiple TEs. In healthy brain, T2a is greater than T2e and varies considerably with anatomical region.

Keywords: T2; brain; diffusion MRI; direction-averaged; intra-axonal; white matter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Axons / pathology*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Fields
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Water / chemistry
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging*


  • Water