Tremendous efforts have been made in the last decade to advance cutting-edge MRI technology in pursuit of mapping structural connectivity in the living human brain with unprecedented sensitivity and speed. The first Connectom 3T MRI scanner equipped with a 300 mT/m whole-body gradient system was installed at the Massachusetts General Hospital in 2011 and was specifically constructed as part of the Human Connectome Project. Since that time, numerous technological advances have been made to enable the broader use of the Connectom high gradient system for diffusion tractography and tissue microstructure studies and leverage its unique advantages and sensitivity to resolving macroscopic and microscopic structural information in neural tissue for clinical and neuroscientific studies. The goal of this review article is to summarize the technical developments that have emerged in the last decade to support and promote large-scale and scientific studies of the human brain using the Connectom scanner. We provide a brief historical perspective on the development of Connectom gradient technology and the efforts that led to the installation of three other Connectom 3T MRI scanners worldwide - one in the United Kingdom in Cardiff, Wales, another in continental Europe in Leipzig, Germany, and the latest in Asia in Shanghai, China. We summarize the key developments in gradient hardware and image acquisition technology that have formed the backbone of Connectom-related research efforts, including the rich array of high-sensitivity receiver coils, pulse sequences, image artifact correction strategies and data preprocessing methods needed to optimize the quality of high-gradient strength diffusion MRI data for subsequent analyses. Finally, we review the scientific impact of the Connectom MRI scanner, including advances in diffusion tractography, tissue microstructural imaging, ex vivo validation, and clinical investigations that have been enabled by Connectom technology. We conclude with brief insights into the unique value of strong gradients for diffusion MRI and where the field is headed in the coming years.
Keywords: Diffusion MRI; Human Connectome Project (HCP); axon diameter; brain; clinical applications; data sharing; fiber tracking; high b-value; human connectome scanner; peripheral nerve stimulation; preprocessing; radio frequency coil; sequence; tissue microstructure; white matter.
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