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Axon Diameter Measurements using Diffusion MRI are Infeasible

By Michael Paquette, Cornelius Eichner, Thomas R. Knösche, Alfred Anwander

Posted 03 Oct 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.10.01.320507

The feasibility of non-invasive axonal diameter quantification with diffusion MRI is a strongly debated topic due to the neuroscientific potential of such information and its relevance for the axonal signal transmission speed. It has been shown that under ideal conditions, the minimal diameter producing detectable signal decay is bigger than most human axons in the brain, even using the strongest currently available MRI systems. We show that resolving the simplest situations including multiple diameters is unfeasible even with diameters much bigger than the diameter limit. Additionally, the recently proposed effective diameter resulting from fitting a single value over a distribution is almost exclusively influenced by the biggest axons. We show how impractical this metric is for comparing different distributions. Overall, axon diameters currently cannot be quantified by diffusion MRI in any relevant way.

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