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Diffusion MRI in the brain – Theory and concepts

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019

King's Authors


Over the past two decades, diffusion MRI has become an essential tool in neuroimaging investigations. This is due to its sensitivity to the motion of water molecules as they diffuse through the microstructural environment, allowing diffusion MRI to be used as a ‘probe’ of tissue microstructure. Furthermore, this sensitivity is strongly direction-dependent, notably in brain white matter, due to the alignment of structures that restrict or hinder the motion of water molecules, notably axonal membranes. This provides a means of inferring the orientation of fibres in vivo, and by use of appropriate fibre-tracking algorithms, of delineating the path of white matter tracts in the brain. The ability to perform so-called tractography in humans in vivo non-invasively is unique to diffusion MRI, and is now used in applications such as neurosurgery planning and more broadly within investigations of brain connectomics. This review describes the theory and concepts of diffusion MRI and describes its most important areas of application in the brain, with a strong focus on tractography.

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