Diffusion tensor imaging
Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is a magnetic resonance imaging technique that enables the measurement of the restricted diffusion of water in tissue in order to produce neural tract images instead of using this data solely for the purpose of assigning contrast or colors to pixels in a cross sectional image. It also provides useful structural information about muscle—including heart muscle—as well as other tissues such as the prostate.
The principal application is in the imaging of white matter where the location, orientation, and anisotropy of the tracts can be measured. The architecture of the axons in parallel bundles, and their myelin sheaths, facilitate the diffusion of the water molecules preferentially along their main direction. The imaging of this property is an extension of diffusion MRI.
Fiber tracking algorithms can be used to track a fiber along its whole length (e.g. the corticospinal tract, through which the motor information transit from the motor cortex to thespinal cord and the peripheral nerves). Tractography is a useful tool for measuring deficits in white matter, such as in aging.
Some clinical applications of DTI are in the tract-specific localization of white matter lesions such as trauma and in defining the severity of diffuse traumatic brain injury. The localization of tumors in relation to the white matter tracts (infiltration, deflection), has been one of the most important initial applications. In surgical planning for some types of brain tumors, surgery is aided by knowing the proximity and relative position of thecorticospinal tract and a tumor.
The use of DTI for the assessment of white matter in development, pathology and degeneration has been the focus of over 2,500 research publications since 2005. It promises to be very helpful in distinguishing Alzheimer’s disease from other types of dementia.
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