SANDI: A compartment-based model for non-invasive apparent soma and neurite imaging by diffusion MRI

Neuroimage. 2020 Jul 15;215:116835. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.116835. Epub 2020 Apr 11.


This work introduces a compartment-based model for apparent cell body (namely soma) and neurite density imaging (SANDI) using non-invasive diffusion-weighted MRI (DW-MRI). The existing conjecture in brain microstructure imaging through DW-MRI presents water diffusion in white (WM) and gray (GM) matter as restricted diffusion in neurites, modelled by infinite cylinders of null radius embedded in the hindered extra-neurite water. The extra-neurite pool in WM corresponds to water in the extra-axonal space, but in GM it combines water in the extra-cellular space with water in soma. While several studies showed that this microstructure model successfully describe DW-MRI data in WM and GM at b ​≤ ​3,000 ​s/mm2 (or 3 ​ms/μm2), it has been also shown to fail in GM at high b values (b≫3,000 ​s/mm2 or 3 ​ms/μm2). Here we hypothesise that the unmodelled soma compartment (i.e. cell body of any brain cell type: from neuroglia to neurons) may be responsible for this failure and propose SANDI as a new model of brain microstructure where soma of any brain cell type is explicitly included. We assess the effects of size and density of soma on the direction-averaged DW-MRI signal at high b values and the regime of validity of the model using numerical simulations and comparison with experimental data from mouse (bmax ​= ​40,000 ​s/mm2, or 40 ​ms/μm2) and human (bmax ​= ​10,000 ​s/mm2, or 10 ​ms/μm2) brain. We show that SANDI defines new contrasts representing complementary information on the brain cyto- and myelo-architecture. Indeed, we show maps from 25 healthy human subjects of MR soma and neurite signal fractions, that remarkably mirror contrasts of histological images of brain cyto- and myelo-architecture. Although still under validation, SANDI might provide new insight into tissue architecture by introducing a new set of biomarkers of potential great value for biomedical applications and pure neuroscience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cell Body / physiology*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neurites / physiology*