In Vivo Imaging of Gray Matter Microstructure in Major Psychiatric Disorders: Opportunities for Clinical Translation

Arash Nazeri, Christin Schifani, John A.E. Anderson, Stephanie H. Ameis, Aristotle N. Voineskos

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Postmortem studies reveal that individuals with major neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder have gray matter microstructural abnormalities. These include abnormalities in neuropil organization, expression of proteins supporting neuritic and synaptic integrity, and myelination. Genetic and postmortem studies suggest that these changes may be causally linked to the pathogenesis of these disorders. Advances in diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance image (dMRI) acquisition techniques and biophysical modeling allow for the quantification of gray matter microstructure in vivo. While several biophysical models for imaging microstructural properties are available, one in particular, neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging (NODDI), holds great promise for clinical applications. NODDI can be applied to both gray and white matter and requires only a single extra shell beyond a standard dMRI acquisition. Since its development only a few years ago, the NODDI algorithm has been used to characterize gray matter microstructure in schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, healthy aging, and development. These investigations have shown that microstructural findings in vivo, using NODDI, align with postmortem findings. Not only do NODDI and other advanced dMRI-based modeling methods provide a window into the brain previously only available postmortem, but they may be more sensitive to certain brain changes than conventional magnetic resonance imaging approaches. This opens up exciting new possibilities for clinicians to more rapidly detect disease signatures and allows earlier intervention in the course of the disease. Given that neurites and gray matter microstructure have the capacity to rapidly remodel, these novel dMRI-based methods represent an opportunity to noninvasively monitor neuroplastic changes posttherapy within much shorter time scales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)855-864
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2020


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Diffusion-weighted MRI
  • Gray matter microstructure
  • Imaging
  • Schizophrenia


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