Diffusion MRI uses the random displacement of water molecules to sensitize the signal to brain microstructure and to properties such as the density and shape of cells. Microstructure modeling techniques aim to estimate these properties from acquired data by separating the signal between virtual tissue 'compartments' such as the intra-neurite and the extra-cellular space. A key challenge is that the diffusion MRI signal is relatively featureless compared with the complexity of brain tissue. Another challenge is that the tissue microstructure is wildly different within the gray and white matter of the brain. In this review, we use results from multidimensional diffusion encoding techniques to discuss these challenges and their tentative solutions. Multidimensional encoding increases the information content of the data by varying not only the b-value and the encoding direction but also additional experimental parameters such as the shape of the b-tensor and the echo time. Three main insights have emerged from such encoding. First, multidimensional data contradict common model assumptions on diffusion and T 2 relaxation and illustrates how the use of these assumptions cause erroneous interpretations in both healthy brain and pathology. Second, many model assumptions can be dispensed with if data are acquired with multidimensional encoding. The necessary data can be easily acquired in vivo using protocols optimized to minimize Cramér-Rao lower bounds. Third, microscopic diffusion anisotropy reflects the presence of axons but not dendrites. This insight stands in contrast to current 'neurite models' of brain tissue, which assume that axons in white matter and dendrites in gray matter feature highly similar diffusion. Nevertheless, as an axon-based contrast, microscopic anisotropy can differentiate gray and white matter when myelin alterations confound conventional MRI contrasts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120338
Early online date2023 Aug 18
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Other Physics Topics
  • Radiology, Nuclear Medicine and Medical Imaging


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