Feasibility of diffusion-tensor and correlated diffusion imaging for studying white-matter microstructural abnormalities: Application in COVID-19


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There has been growing attention on the effect of COVID-19 on white-matter microstructure, especially among those that self-isolated after being infected. There is also immense scientific interest and potential clinical utility to evaluate the sensitivity of single-shell diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods for detecting such effects. In this work, the performances of three single-shell-compatible diffusion MRI modeling methods are compared for detecting the effect of COVID-19, including diffusion-tensor imaging, diffusion-tensor decomposition of orthogonal moments and correlated diffusion imaging. Imaging was performed on self-isolated patients at the study initiation and 3-month follow-up, along with age- and sex-matched controls. We demonstrate through simulations and experimental data that correlated diffusion imaging is associated with far greater sensitivity, being the only one of the three single-shell methods to demonstrate COVID-19-related brain effects. Results suggest less restricted diffusion in the frontal lobe in COVID-19 patients, but also more restricted diffusion in the cerebellar white matter, in agreement with several existing studies highlighting the vulnerability of the cerebellum to COVID-19 infection. These results, taken together with the simulation results, suggest that a significant proportion of COVID-19 related white-matter microstructural pathology manifests as a change in tissue diffusivity. Interestingly, different b-values also confer different sensitivities to the effects. No significant difference was observed in patients at the 3-month follow-up, likely due to the limited size of the follow-up cohort. To summarize, correlated diffusion imaging is shown to be a viable single-shell diffusion analysis approach that allows us to uncover opposing patterns of diffusion changes in the frontal and cerebellar regions of COVID-19 patients, suggesting the two regions react differently to viral infection.
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