New MRI technology provides detailed views of brain development, response to injury

December 03, 2000

Researchers will convene at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to discuss how to make the best uses of a new technology that allows researchers and physicians to make detailed, three-dimensional maps of the networks through which various parts of the brain communicate. The technology, devised by researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), also holds promise for providing similar detailed maps of the skeletal muscles, heart, and circulatory system.

On December 6-7, 2000, scientists from around the world will convene at NIH to discuss the new technology, Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging (DT-MRI). DT-MRI allows researchers and physicians to diagnose various medical conditions, including stroke, as well as to assess certain neurological, cognitive, and behavioral disorders.

The NIH Diffusion Tensor MRI (DT-MRI) Conference: From Bench to Bedside, will be held at the NIH Natcher Conference Center (Bldg. 45) starting at 8:00 a.m. on December 6. Detailed information about the conference is available at

According to conference organizer and co-inventor, Peter Basser, Ph.D., Chief of the NICHD Section on Tissue Biophysics and Biomimetics, DT-MRI provides information about the random motion of water molecules in tissues, particularly in fibrous tissues, such as nerves, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Conferees will review existing uses of DT-MRI, as well as consider new clinical applications of the method, explained Dr. Basser. Scheduled presentations will address:

· explaining how DT-MRI works
· examining normal brain structure, determined by DT-MRI
· imaging nerve tissue affected by stroke and other neurological disorders
· imaging nerve tissue in patients with cognitive disorders, such as dyslexia, and with behavioral disorders, such as schizophrenia
· imaging normal brain development of infants and children
· staging tumors
· imaging the heart

Carlo Pierpaoli, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher with the NICHD Section on Tissue Biophysics and Biomimetics, explained that DT-MRI provides information on normal and diseased brains that is not available from a conventional MRI. With DT-MRI, it is possible to depict brain regions that suffer from a lack of blood supply during an acute stroke. Researchers testing new medications to prevent brain damage that results from stroke can also use DT-MRI to assess the efficacy of the treatment. With DT-MRI it is also possible to assess damage to the fibers that connect the stroke area to regions of the brain that are distant from it. Dr. Pierpaoli said that DT-MRI can depict fibers that connect different regions of the brain and that investigators are using this technique to assess diseases in which the brain's "wiring" is expected to be abnormal, such as autism, attention deficit disorder, and schizophrenia. DT-MRI might also be used to detect abnormalities in the structure of the heart and other muscles.
In addition to NICHD, other co-sponsors of the conference are: the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Detailed photographic images of the new technology are available on the NICHD Web site at, A videocast of the conference is available at The accompanying Background information, Diffusion Tensor MRI, provides specifics about the new technology.


For Immediate Release
December 4, 2000

Contact: Robert Bock

Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or DT-MRI, is a technology that measures the random motion of hydrogen atoms within water molecules in all three dimensions, non-invasively, and in vivo. DT-MRI adds to conventional MRI the capability of measuring the random motion of water molecules, referred to as diffusion. Although water appears placid to the naked eye, individual water molecules are constantly in motion, colliding with each other and with other molecules in tissues at high speeds. These high-speed collisions cause the water molecules to spread out or diffuse. Diffusion causes a drop of a dye that is placed at the center of a beaker of water to slowly spread apart in a spherical pattern. Water in tissues containing a large number of fibers, like skeletal muscle, cardiac muscle, and brain white matter, diffuse fastest along the direction that the fibers are pointing in, and slowest at right angles to it. In contrast, water diffuses in a spherical pattern in tissues that contain few fibers. DT-MRI renders such complex information about how water diffuses in tissues into intricate three-dimensional representations of the tissues.

While this technology provides new information about the state of many tissues within the body, it is particularly informative when imaging fibrous tissues, such as tendons, and ligaments. The ability to measure these different rates of diffusion along different directions is one of the features that distinguish DT-MRI from other imaging methods.

DT-MRI was invented at the National Institutes of Health by Peter J. Basser, James Mattiello, and Denis LeBihan. According to Basser, DT-MRI provides novel, histological and anatomical information about tissue structure, composition, architecture, and organization. Changes in these tissue properties can often be correlated with processes that occur in development, degeneration, disease, and aging, so this method is becoming more widely applied. Additional information and DT-MR images can be found

NIH/Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

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