The myelin water fraction has been used as a quantitative measure of the amount of myelin present in tissue. However, recent work has suggested that intercompartmental exchange of water between myelin and nonmyelin compartments may cause the myelin water fraction to underestimate the true myelin content of tissue. In this work, multiexponential T(2) experiments were performed in vivo within the rat spinal cord, and a wide variation of the myelin water fraction (10-35%) was measured within four rat spinal cord tracts with similar myelin content. A numerical simulation based upon segmented histology images was used to quantitatively account for T(2) variations between tracts. The model predicts that a difference in exchange between the four spinal cord tracts, mediated by a difference in the average axon radius and myelin thickness, is sufficient to account for the variation in myelin water fraction measured in vivo.
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