Diffusion tractography of the rat knee at microscopic resolution

Nian Wang, Anthony J. Mirando, Gary Cofer, Yi Qi, Matthew J. Hilton, G. Allan Johnson

Magnetic Resonance in Medicine 22 January 2019, 27652 Magnetic Resonance in Medicine 27652


To evaluate whole knee joint tractography, including articular cartilage, ligaments, meniscus, and growth plate using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) at microscopic resolution.


Three rat knee joints were scanned using a modified 3D diffusion‐weighted spin echo pulse sequence with 90‐ and 45‐μm isotropic spatial resolution at 9.4T. The b values varied from 250 to 1250 s/mm2 with 4 times undersampling in phase directions. Fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD) were compared at different spatial resolution and b values. Tractography was evaluated at multiple b values and angular resolutions in different connective tissues, and compared with conventional histology. The mean tract length and tract volume in various types of tissues were also quantified.


DTI metrics (FA and MD) showed consistent quantitative results at 90‐ and 45‐μm isotropic spatial resolutions. Tractography of various connective tissues was found to be sensitive to the spatial resolution, angular resolution, and diffusion weightings. Higher spatial resolution (45 μm) supported tracking the cartilage collagen fiber tracts from the superficial zone to the deep zone, in a continuous and smooth progression in the transitional zone. Fiber length and fiber volume in the growth plate were strongly dependent on angular resolution and b values, whereas tractography in ligaments was found to be less dependent on spatial resolution. Conclusion High spatial and angular resolution DTI and diffusion tractography can be valuable for knee joint research because of its visualization capacity for collagen fiber orientations and quantitative evaluation of tissue’s microscopic properties.

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This work was supported by the NIH/NIBIB National Biomedical Technology Resource Center P41 EB015897 (to G.A. Johnson), NIH 1S10OD010683‐01 (to G.A. Johnson), NIH 1R01NS096720‐01A1 (to G.A. Johnson), and 5R01AR063071‐07 (to M.J. Hilton). The authors thank Prof Yang Xia for insight comments and discussions. The authors thank Robert J. Anderson, James Cook, and Lucy Upchurch for significant technical support. The authors thank Tatiana Johnson for editorial comments on the manuscript.