Mapping axon diameter is of interest for the potential diagnosis and monitoring of various neuronal pathologies. Advanced diffusion-weighted MRI methods have been developed to measure mean axon diameters non-invasively, but suffer major drawbacks that prevent their direct translation into clinical practice, such as complex non-linear data fitting and, more importantly, long scanning times that are usually not tolerable for most human subjects. In the current study, temporal diffusion spectroscopy using oscillating diffusion gradients was used to measure mean axon diameters with high sensitivity to small axons in the central nervous system. Axon diameters have been found to be correlated with a novel metric, DDR⊥ (the rate of dispersion of the perpendicular diffusion coefficient with gradient frequency), which is a model-free quantity that does not require complex data analyses and can be obtained from two diffusion coefficient measurements in clinically relevant times with conventional MRI machines. A comprehensive investigation including computer simulations and animal experiments ex vivo showed that measurements of DDR⊥ agree closely with histological data. In humans in vivo, DDR⊥ was also found to correlate well with reported mean axon diameters in human corpus callosum, and the total scan time was only about 8 min. In conclusion, DDR⊥ may have potential to serve as a fast, simple and model-free approach to map the mean axon diameter of white matter in clinics for assessing axon diameter changes.
Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.