The fine-scale structure of brain tissue is crucial to neural function and health. We are developing MRI techniques that may enable non-invasive estimates of brain microstructure.
The microscopic structure of brain tissue plays a key role in neural function and health: the shape, density and size of cellular and sub-cellular structures are all carefully regulated in health, and often implicated in disease. Since the late 1800s, these properties have been studied with microscopy, following an invasive tissue extraction. Our goal is to estimate microstructural properties non-invasively in living subjects using MRI, which could revolutionize our ability to study neuronal disease and health.
While MRI is unlikely to ever actually resolve cellular structures in living humans, it is exquisitely sensitive to the micro-environment of water molecules. This enables MRI to characterize microstructural properties on a millimetre scale. We are developing techniques for estimating the distribution of axonal diameters in white matter, as well as other cellular structures, using diffusion MRI. A different technique, based on magnetic susceptibility, is being explored for the estimation of iron and myelin, two tissue constituents that are crucial to brain function.
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This research is conducted by the FMRIB Physics Group.