Diffusion-tensor magnetic resonance imaging (DTI) offers great potential for understanding structure-function relationships in skeletal muscle. The basis for these studies is that water diffuses more readily along the long axes of muscle fibers than along their transverse axes. This diffusion anisotropy can be characterized using a tensor, with the orientation of the principal eigenvalue corresponding to the long axis of the muscle fiber. These local, voxel-based directions can be combined by a fiber tracking algorithm to reconstruct the whole-muscle architecture. The fiber tracking data can be used to characterize important muscle architectural parameters, such as pennation angle, fiber length, and physiological cross-sectional area. The second and third eigenvalues convey information about muscle structural properties along the fibers transverse axes. A comprehensive description of the sources of transverse diffusion restriction in muscle and how their relative importance may vary with the image acquisition conditions does not yet exist, but may ultimately make DTI a useful tool in studies of skeletal muscle microstructure as well. Ultimately, DTI-based longitudinal studies of changes in muscle architecture may provide insight into the relationships between structure and function in muscle, the time frames of muscle wasting, and in studying adaptations that maintain muscle functionality.
Keywords: DTI, anisotropy, fiber tracking, pennation angle, skeletal muscle
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