October 24, 2020

Can MRI measure myelin? Systematic review, qualitative assessment, and meta-analysis of studies validating microstructural imaging with myelin histology

Recent years have seen an increased understanding of the importance of myelination in healthy brain function and neuropsychiatric diseases. Non-invasive microstructural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) holds the potential to expand and translate these insights to basic and clinical human research, but the sensitivity and specificity of different MR markers to myelination is a subject of debate. To consolidate current knowledge on the topic, we perform a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies that validate microstructural imaging by combining it with myelin histology. We find meta-analytic evidence for correlations between myelin histology and markers from different MRI modalities, including diffusion weighted imaging, relaxometry, quantitative susceptibility mapping and magnetization transfer imaging. Meta-analytic correlation effect sizes range widely, between R2 = 0.26 and R2 = 0.82. However, formal comparisons between MRI-based myelin markers are limited by methodological variability, inconsistent reporting and potential for publication bias, thus preventing the establishment of a single most sensitive strategy to measure myelin with MRI. To facilitate further progress, we provide a detailed characterisation of the studies in our analysis as an online resource. We also share a set of recommendations for future studies validating putative MR-based myelin markers and deploying them in vivo in humans.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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