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Using Advanced Diffusion-Weighted Imaging to Predict Cell Counts in Gray Matter: Potential and Pitfalls.


Recent advances in diffusion imaging have given it the potential to non-invasively detect explicit neurobiological properties, beyond what was previously possible with conventional structural imaging. However, there is very little known about what cytoarchitectural properties these metrics, especially those derived from newer multi-shell models like Neurite Orientation Dispersion and Density Imaging (NODDI) correspond to. While these diffusion metrics do not promise any inherent cell type specificity, different brain cells have varying morphologies, which could influence the diffusion signal in distinct ways. This relationship is currently not well-characterized. Understanding the possible cytoarchitectural signatures of diffusion measures could allow them to estimate important neurobiological properties like cell counts, potentially resulting in a powerful clinical diagnostic tool. Here, using advanced diffusion imaging (NODDI) in the mouse brain, we demonstrate that different regions have unique relationships between cell counts and diffusion metrics. We take advantage of this exclusivity to introduce a framework to predict cell counts of different types of cells from the diffusion metrics alone, in a region-specific manner. We also outline the challenges of reliably developing such a model and discuss the precautions the field must take when trying to tie together medical imaging modalities and histology.

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