Increasing evidence implicates white matter (WM) dynamics supporting learning in the mature brain. Recent MRI studies, mostly using diffusion tensor MRI (DT-MRI), have demonstrated learning-induced WM changes at the microstructural level. However, while DT-MRI-derived measures have sensitivity to general WM microstructural changes, they lack compartmental specificity, making them difficult to relate to underlying cellular mechanisms, stymying deeper understanding of mechanisms supporting training-induced gains in performance. Gaining a deeper understanding demands a more detailed characterization of changes in specific WM sub-components. To this end, four microstructural MRI techniques were employed to study alterations in rat brains after 5-days of water maze training: DT-MRI; Composite Hindered and Restricted Model of Diffusion (CHARMED); magnetization transfer (MT) imaging; quantitative susceptibility mapping and R2*. The hypothesis tested here was that microstructural changes would be: (i) observed in tracts supporting spatial navigation, i.e., fornix and corpus callosum (CC); and (ii) more pronounced in the myelin-specific measures. Medians and distributions of microstructural parameters were derived along the fornix, CC and cingulum (as a comparison tract) using the ‘tractometry’ approach. Summary measures were derived from different metrics using unsupervised data reduction. Significant pre-vs-post training differences were found in the medians of two principal components loading on: (i) anisotropy indices; and (ii) MT ratio. The most striking effect, however, was seen in the distributions of pre-vs-post training MT ratio in the fornix, consistent with the primary hypothesis, and highlighting the value of this alternative to the standard approach (i.e., comparing means/medians of DT-MRI parameters) for studying neuroplasticity in vivo.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience