Purpose: Myelin has long been the target of neuroimaging research due to its importance in brain development, plasticity, and disease. However, most available techniques can only provide a voxel-averaged estimate of myelin content. In the human brain, white matter fibre pathways connecting different brain areas and carrying different functions often cross each other in the same voxel. A measure that can differentiate the degree of myelination of crossing fibres would provide a more specific marker of myelination. Theory & Methods: One MRI signal property sensitive to myelin is the phase accumulation, which to date has also been limited to voxel-averaged myelin estimates. We use this sensitivity by measuring the phase accumulation of the signal remaining after diffusion weighting, which we call DIffusion-Prepared Phase Imaging (DIPPI). Including diffusion weighting before estimating the phase accumulation has two distinct advantages for estimating the degree of myelination: (1) it increases the relative contribution of intra-axonal water, whose phase is related linearly to the amount of myelin surrounding the axon (in particular the log g-ratio) and (2) it gives directional information, which can be used to distinguish between crossing fibres. Results: Using simulations and phantom data we argue that other sources of phase accumulation (i.e., movement-induced phase shift during the diffusion gradients, eddy currents, and other sources of susceptibility) can be either corrected for or are sufficiently small to still allow the g-ratio to be reliably estimated. Conclusions: This new sequence is capable of providing a g-ratio estimate per fibre population crossing within a voxel.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience