Ultra-strong diffusion-weighted MRI reveals cerebellar grey matter abnormalities in movement disorders

Chantal M.W. Tax*, Sila Genc, Claire L. MacIver, Markus Nilsson, Mark Wardle, Filip Szczepankiewicz, Derek K. Jones, Kathryn J. Peall

*Corresponding author for this work

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Structural brain MRI has proven invaluable in understanding movement disorder pathophysiology. However, most work has focused on grey/white matter volumetric (macrostructural) and white matter microstructural effects, limiting understanding of frequently implicated grey matter microstructural differences. Using ultra-strong spherical tensor encoding diffusion-weighted MRI, a persistent MRI signal was seen in healthy cerebellar grey matter even at high diffusion-weightings (b ​≥ 10,000 s/mm2). Quantifying the proportion of this signal (denoted fs), previously ascertained to originate from inside small spherical spaces, provides a potential proxy for cell body density. In this work, this approach was applied for the first time to a clinical cohort, including patients with diagnosed movement disorders in which the cerebellum has been implicated in symptom pathophysiology. Five control participants (control group 1, median age 24.5 years (20–39 years), imaged at two timepoints, demonstrated consistency in measurement of all three measures - MD (Mean Diffusivity) fs, and Ds (dot diffusivity)- with intraclass correlation coefficients (ICC) of 0.98, 0.86 and 0.76, respectively. Comparison with an older control group (control group 2 (n = 5), median age 51 years (43–58 years)) found no significant differences, neither with morphometric nor microstructural (MD (p = 0.36), fs (p = 0.17) and Ds (p = 0.22)) measures. The movement disorder cohort (Parkinson's Disease, n = 5, dystonia, n = 5. Spinocerebellar Ataxia 6, n = 5) when compared to the age-matched control cohort (Control Group 2) identified significantly lower MD (p < 0.0001 and p < 0.0001) and higher fs values (p < 0.0001 and p < 0.0001) in SCA6 and dystonia cohorts respectively. Lobar division of the cerebellum found these same differences in the superior and inferior posterior lobes, while no differences were seen in either the anterior lobes or with Ds measurements. In contrast to more conventional measures from diffusion tensor imaging, this framework provides enhanced specificity to differences in restricted spherical spaces in grey matter (including small cells) by eliminating signals from cerebrospinal fluid and axons. In the context of human and animal histopathology studies, these findings potentially implicate the cerebellar Purkinje and granule cells as contributors to the observed signal differences, with both cell types having been implicated in several neurological disorders through both postmortem and animal model studies. This novel microstructural imaging approach shows promise for improving movement disorder diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103419
Pages (from-to)1-9
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


  • Cerebellum
  • Diffusion
  • Microstructure
  • Movement Disorders
  • MRI


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