Diffusion MRI for Assessment of Bone Quality; A Review of Findings in Healthy Aging and Osteoporosis
Diffusion MRI (dMRI) is a growing imaging technique with the potential to provide biomarkers of tissue variation, such as cellular density, tissue anisotropy, and microvascular perfusion. However, the role of dMRI in characterizing different aspects of bone quality, especially in aging and osteoporosis, has not yet been fully established, particularly in clinical applications. The reason lies in the complications accompanied with implementation of dMRI in assessment of human bone structure, in terms of acquisition and quantification. Bone is a composite tissue comprising different elements, each contributing to the overall quality and functional competence of bone. As diffusion is a critical biophysical process in biological tissues, early changes of tissue microstructure and function can affect diffusive properties of the tissue. While there are multiple MRI methods to detect variations of individual properties of bone quality due to aging and osteoporosis, dMRI has potential to serve as a superior method for characterizing different aspects of bone quality within the same framework but with higher sensitivity to early alterations. This is mainly because several properties of the tissue including directionality and anisotropy of trabecular bone and cell density can be collected using only dMRI. In this review article, we first describe components of human bone that can be potentially detected by their diffusivity properties and contribute to variations in bone quality during aging and osteoporosis. Then we discuss considerations and challenges of dMRI in bone imaging, current status, and suggestions for development of dMRI in research studies and clinics to segregate different contributing components of bone quality in an integrated acquisition.