Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI)-based white matter mapping in brain research: a review

Assaf Y, Pasternak O

J. Mol. Neurosci. 2008;34(1):51-61

PMID: 18157658


Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) has become one of the most popular MRI techniques in brain research, as well as in clinical practice. The number of brain studies with DTI is growing steadily and, over the last decade, has produced more than 700 publications. Diffusion tensor imaging enables visualization and characterization of white matter fascicli in two and three dimensions. Since the introduction of this methodology in 1994, it has been used to study the white matter architecture and integrity of the normal and diseased brains (multiple sclerosis, stroke, aging, dementia, schizophrenia, etc.). Although it provided image contrast that was not available with routine MR techniques, unique information on white matter and 3D visualization of neuronal pathways, many questions were raised regarding the origin of the DTI signal. Diffusion tensor imaging is constantly validated, challenged, and developed in terms of acquisition scheme, image processing, analysis, and interpretation. While DTI offers a powerful tool to study and visualize white matter, it suffers from inherent artifacts and limitations. The partial volume effect and the inability of the model to cope with non-Gaussian diffusion are its two main drawbacks. Nevertheless, when combined with functional brain mapping, DTI provides an efficient tool for comprehensive, noninvasive, functional anatomy mapping of the human brain. This review summarizes the development of DTI in the last decade with respect to the specificity and utility of the technique in radiology and anatomy studies.