PURPOSE: Characterizing the relation between the applied gradient sequences and the measured diffusion MRI signal is important for estimating the time-dependent diffusivity, which provides important information about the microscopic tissue structure. THEORY AND METHODS: In this article, we extend the classical theory of Stepišnik for measuring time-dependent diffusivity under the Gaussian phase approximation. In particular, we derive three novel expressions which represent the diffusion MRI signal in terms of the mean-squared displacement, the instantaneous diffusivity, and the velocity autocorrelation function. We present the explicit signal expressions for the case of single diffusion encoding and oscillating gradient spin-echo sequences. Additionally, we also propose three different models to represent time-varying diffusivity and test them using Monte-Carlo simulations and in vivo human brain data. RESULTS: The time-varying diffusivities are able to distinguish the synthetic structures in the Monte-Carlo simulations. There is also strong statistical evidence about time-varying diffusivity from the in vivo human data set. CONCLUSION: The proposed theory provides new insights into our understanding of the time-varying diffusivity using different gradient sequences. The proposed models for representing time-varying diffusivity can be utilized to study time-varying diffusivity using in vivo human brain diffusion MRI data.
INTRODUCTION: Huntington's disease (HD) is a genetic neurodegenerative disorder that primarily affects striatal neurons. Striatal volume loss is present years before clinical diagnosis; however, white matter degradation may also occur prior to diagnosis. Diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) can measure microstructural changes associated with degeneration that precede macrostructural changes. DWI derived measures enhance understanding of degeneration in prodromal HD (pre-HD). METHODS: As part of the PREDICT-HD study, N = 191 pre-HD individuals and 70 healthy controls underwent two or more (baseline and 1-5 year follow-up) DWI, with n = 649 total sessions. Images were processed using cutting-edge DWI analysis methods for large multicenter studies. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) metrics were computed in selected tracts connecting the primary motor, primary somato-sensory, and premotor areas of the cortex with the subcortical caudate and putamen. Pre-HD participants were divided into three CAG-Age Product (CAP) score groups reflecting clinical diagnosis probability (low, medium, or high probabilities). Baseline and longitudinal group differences were examined using linear mixed models. RESULTS: Cross-sectional and longitudinal differences in DTI measures were present in all three CAP groups compared with controls. The high CAP group was most affected. CONCLUSIONS: This is the largest longitudinal DWI study of pre-HD to date. Findings showed DTI differences, consistent with white matter degeneration, were present up to a decade before predicted HD diagnosis. Our findings indicate a unique role for disrupted connectivity between the premotor area and the putamen, which may be closely tied to the onset of motor symptoms in HD.
We propose a novel method to harmonize diffusion MRI data acquired from multiple sites and scanners, which is imperative for joint analysis of the data to significantly increase sample size and statistical power of neuroimaging studies. Our method incorporates the following main novelties: i) we take into account the scanner-dependent spatial variability of the diffusion signal in different parts of the brain; ii) our method is independent of compartmental modeling of diffusion (e.g., tensor, and intra/extra cellular compartments) and the acquired signal itself is corrected for scanner related differences; and iii) inter-subject variability as measured by the coefficient of variation is maintained at each site. We represent the signal in a basis of spherical harmonics and compute several rotation invariant spherical harmonic features to estimate a region and tissue specific linear mapping between the signal from different sites (and scanners). We validate our method on diffusion data acquired from seven different sites (including two GE, three Philips, and two Siemens scanners) on a group of age-matched healthy subjects. Since the extracted rotation invariant spherical harmonic features depend on the accuracy of the brain parcellation provided by Freesurfer, we propose a feature based refinement of the original parcellation such that it better characterizes the anatomy and provides robust linear mappings to harmonize the dMRI data. We demonstrate the efficacy of our method by statistically comparing diffusion measures such as fractional anisotropy, mean diffusivity and generalized fractional anisotropy across multiple sites before and after data harmonization. We also show results using tract-based spatial statistics before and after harmonization for independent validation of the proposed methodology. Our experimental results demonstrate that, for nearly identical acquisition protocol across sites, scanner-specific differences can be accurately removed using the proposed method.
The question whether our brain pathways adhere to a geometric grid structure has been a popular topic of debate in the diffusion imaging and neuroscience societies. Wedeen et al. (2012a, b) proposed that the brain's white matter is organized like parallel sheets of interwoven pathways. Catani et al. (2012) concluded that this grid pattern is most likely an artifact, resulting from methodological biases that cause the tractography pathways to cross in orthogonal angles. To date, ambiguities in the mathematical conditions for a sheet structure to exist (e.g. its relation to orthogonal angles) combined with the lack of extensive quantitative evidence have prevented wide acceptance of the hypothesis. In this work, we formalize the relevant terminology and recapitulate the condition for a sheet structure to exist. Note that this condition is not related to the presence or absence of orthogonal crossing fibers, and that sheet structure is defined formally as a surface formed by two sets of interwoven pathways intersecting at arbitrary angles within the surface. To quantify the existence of sheet structure, we present a novel framework to compute the sheet probability index (SPI), which reflects the presence of sheet structure in discrete orientation data (e.g. fiber peaks derived from diffusion MRI). With simulation experiments we investigate the effect of spatial resolution, curvature of the fiber pathways, and measurement noise on the ability to detect sheet structure. In real diffusion MRI data experiments we can identify various regions where the data supports sheet structure (high SPI values), but also areas where the data does not support sheet structure (low SPI values) or where no reliable conclusion can be drawn. Several areas with high SPI values were found to be consistent across subjects, across multiple data sets obtained with different scanners, resolutions, and degrees of diffusion weighting, and across various modeling techniques. Under the strong assumption that the diffusion MRI peaks reflect true axons, our results would therefore indicate that pathways do not form sheet structures at every crossing fiber region but instead at well-defined locations in the brain. With this framework, sheet structure location, extent, and orientation could potentially serve as new structural features of brain tissue. The proposed method can be extended to quantify sheet structure in directional data obtained with techniques other than diffusion MRI, which is essential for further validation.
Disentangling the tissue microstructural information from the diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) measurements is quite important for extracting brain tissue specific measures. The autocorrelation function of diffusing spins is key for understanding the relation between dMRI signals and the acquisition gradient sequences. In this paper, we demonstrate that the autocorrelation of diffusion in restricted or bounded spaces can be well approximated by exponential functions. To this end, we propose to use the multivariate Ornstein-Uhlenbeck (OU) process to model the matrix-valued exponential autocorrelation function of three-dimensional diffusion processes with bounded trajectories. We present detailed analysis on the relation between the model parameters and the time-dependent apparent axon radius and provide a general model for dMRI signals from the frequency domain perspective. For our experimental setup, we model the diffusion signal as a mixture of two compartments that correspond to diffusing spins with bounded and unbounded trajectories, and analyze the corpus-callosum in an ex-vivo data set of a monkey brain.
We propose a method for the automated identification of key white matter fiber tracts for neurosurgical planning, and we apply the method in a retrospective study of 18 consecutive neurosurgical patients with brain tumors. Our method is designed to be relatively robust to challenges in neurosurgical tractography, which include peritumoral edema, displacement, and mass effect caused by mass lesions. The proposed method has two parts. First, we learn a data-driven white matter parcellation or fiber cluster atlas using groupwise registration and spectral clustering of multi-fiber tractography from healthy controls. Key fiber tract clusters are identified in the atlas. Next, patient-specific fiber tracts are automatically identified using tractography-based registration to the atlas and spectral embedding of patient tractography. Results indicate good generalization of the data-driven atlas to patients: 80% of the 800 fiber clusters were identified in all 18 patients, and 94% of the 800 fiber clusters were found in 16 or more of the 18 patients. Automated subject-specific tract identification was evaluated by quantitative comparison to subject-specific motor and language functional MRI, focusing on the arcuate fasciculus (language) and corticospinal tracts (motor), which were identified in all patients. Results indicate good colocalization: 89 of 95, or 94%, of patient-specific language and motor activations were intersected by the corresponding identified tract. All patient-specific activations were within 3mm of the corresponding language or motor tract. Overall, our results indicate the potential of an automated method for identifying fiber tracts of interest for neurosurgical planning, even in patients with mass lesions.
We have developed a novel method to describe human white matter anatomy using an approach that is both intuitive and simple to use, and which automatically extracts white matter tracts from diffusion MRI volumes. Further, our method simplifies the quantification and statistical analysis of white matter tracts on large diffusion MRI databases. This work reflects the careful syntactical definition of major white matter fiber tracts in the human brain based on a neuroanatomist's expert knowledge. The framework is based on a novel query language with a near-to-English textual syntax. This query language makes it possible to construct a dictionary of anatomical definitions that describe white matter tracts. The definitions include adjacent gray and white matter regions, and rules for spatial relations. This novel method makes it possible to automatically label white matter anatomy across subjects. After describing this method, we provide an example of its implementation where we encode anatomical knowledge in human white matter for ten association and 15 projection tracts per hemisphere, along with seven commissural tracts. Importantly, this novel method is comparable in accuracy to manual labeling. Finally, we present results applying this method to create a white matter atlas from 77 healthy subjects, and we use this atlas in a small proof-of-concept study to detect changes in association tracts that characterize schizophrenia.
Diffusion MRI (dMRI) can provide invaluable information about the structure of different tissue types in the brain. Standard dMRI acquisitions facilitate a proper analysis (e.g. tracing) of medium-to-large white matter bundles. However, smaller fiber bundles connecting very small cortical or sub-cortical regions cannot be traced accurately in images with large voxel sizes. Yet, the ability to trace such fiber bundles is critical for several applications such as deep brain stimulation and neurosurgery. In this work, we propose a novel acquisition and reconstruction scheme for obtaining high spatial resolution dMRI images using multiple low resolution (LR) images, which is effective in reducing acquisition time while improving the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). The proposed method called compressed-sensing super resolution reconstruction (CS-SRR), uses multiple overlapping thick-slice dMRI volumes that are under-sampled in q-space to reconstruct diffusion signal with complex orientations. The proposed method combines the twin concepts of compressed sensing and super-resolution to model the diffusion signal (at a given b-value) in a basis of spherical ridgelets with total-variation (TV) regularization to account for signal correlation in neighboring voxels. A computationally efficient algorithm based on the alternating direction method of multipliers (ADMM) is introduced for solving the CS-SRR problem. The performance of the proposed method is quantitatively evaluated on several in-vivo human data sets including a true SRR scenario. Our experimental results demonstrate that the proposed method can be used for reconstructing sub-millimeter super resolution dMRI data with very good data fidelity in clinically feasible acquisition time.
The structural heterogeneity of tumor tissue can be probed by diffusion MRI (dMRI) in terms of the variance of apparent diffusivities within a voxel. However, the link between the diffusional variance and the tissue heterogeneity is not well-established. To investigate this link we test the hypothesis that diffusional variance, caused by microscopic anisotropy and isotropic heterogeneity, is associated with variable cell eccentricity and cell density in brain tumors. We performed dMRI using a novel encoding scheme for diffusional variance decomposition (DIVIDE) in 7 meningiomas and 8 gliomas prior to surgery. The diffusional variance was quantified from dMRI in terms of the total mean kurtosis (MKT), and DIVIDE was used to decompose MKT into components caused by microscopic anisotropy (MKA) and isotropic heterogeneity (MKI). Diffusion anisotropy was evaluated in terms of the fractional anisotropy (FA) and microscopic fractional anisotropy (μFA). Quantitative microscopy was performed on the excised tumor tissue, where structural anisotropy and cell density were quantified by structure tensor analysis and cell nuclei segmentation, respectively. In order to validate the DIVIDE parameters they were correlated to the corresponding parameters derived from microscopy. We found an excellent agreement between the DIVIDE parameters and corresponding microscopy parameters; MKA correlated with cell eccentricity (r=0.95, p<10(-7)) and MKI with the cell density variance (r=0.83, p<10(-3)). The diffusion anisotropy correlated with structure tensor anisotropy on the voxel-scale (FA, r=0.80, p<10(-3)) and microscopic scale (μFA, r=0.93, p<10(-6)). A multiple regression analysis showed that the conventional MKT parameter reflects both variable cell eccentricity and cell density, and therefore lacks specificity in terms of microstructure characteristics. However, specificity was obtained by decomposing the two contributions; MKA was associated only to cell eccentricity, and MKI only to cell density variance. The variance in meningiomas was caused primarily by microscopic anisotropy (mean±s.d.) MKA=1.11±0.33 vs MKI=0.44±0.20 (p<10(-3)), whereas in the gliomas, it was mostly caused by isotropic heterogeneity MKI=0.57±0.30 vs MKA=0.26±0.11 (p<0.05). In conclusion, DIVIDE allows non-invasive mapping of parameters that reflect variable cell eccentricity and density. These results constitute convincing evidence that a link exists between specific aspects of tissue heterogeneity and parameters from dMRI. Decomposing effects of microscopic anisotropy and isotropic heterogeneity facilitates an improved interpretation of tumor heterogeneity as well as diffusion anisotropy on both the microscopic and macroscopic scale.
This work describes a new diffusion MR framework for imaging and modeling of microstructure that we call q-space trajectory imaging (QTI). The QTI framework consists of two parts: encoding and modeling. First we propose q-space trajectory encoding, which uses time-varying gradients to probe a trajectory in q-space, in contrast to traditional pulsed field gradient sequences that attempt to probe a point in q-space. Then we propose a microstructure model, the diffusion tensor distribution (DTD) model, which takes advantage of additional information provided by QTI to estimate a distributional model over diffusion tensors. We show that the QTI framework enables microstructure modeling that is not possible with the traditional pulsed gradient encoding as introduced by Stejskal and Tanner. In our analysis of QTI, we find that the well-known scalar b-value naturally extends to a tensor-valued entity, i.e., a diffusion measurement tensor, which we call the b-tensor. We show that b-tensors of rank 2 or 3 enable estimation of the mean and covariance of the DTD model in terms of a second order tensor (the diffusion tensor) and a fourth order tensor. The QTI framework has been designed to improve discrimination of the sizes, shapes, and orientations of diffusion microenvironments within tissue. We derive rotationally invariant scalar quantities describing intuitive microstructural features including size, shape, and orientation coherence measures. To demonstrate the feasibility of QTI on a clinical scanner, we performed a small pilot study comparing a group of five healthy controls with five patients with schizophrenia. The parameter maps derived from QTI were compared between the groups, and 9 out of the 14 parameters investigated showed differences between groups. The ability to measure and model the distribution of diffusion tensors, rather than a quantity that has already been averaged within a voxel, has the potential to provide a powerful paradigm for the study of complex tissue architecture.