Anesthesia-related brain microstructure modulations detected by diffusion MRI

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Recent studies have shown significant changes to brain microstructure during sleep and anesthesia. In vivo optical microscopy and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies have attributed these changes to anesthesia and sleep-related modulation of the brain's extracellular space (ECS). Isoflurane anesthesia is widely used in preclinical diffusion MRI (dMRI) and it is therefore important to investigate if the brain's microstructure is affected by anesthesia to an extent detectable with dMRI. Here, we employ diffusion kurtosis imaging (DKI) to assess brain microstructure in the awake and anesthetized mouse brain (n = 22). We find both mean diffusivity (MD) and mean kurtosis (MK) to be significantly decreased in the anesthetized mouse brain compared with the awake state (p < 0.001 for both). This effect is observed in both gray matter and white matter. To further investigate the time course of these changes we introduce a method for time-resolved fast DKI. With this, we show the time course of the microstructural alterations in mice (n = 5) as they transition between states in an awake-anesthesia-awake paradigm. We find that the decrease in MD and MK occurs rapidly after delivery of gas isoflurane anesthesia and that values normalize only slowly when the animals return to the awake state. Finally, time-resolved fast DKI is employed in an experimental mouse model of brain edema (n = 4), where cell swelling causes the ECS volume to decrease. Our results show that isoflurane affects DKI parameters and metrics of brain microstructure and point to isoflurane causing a reduction in the ECS volume. The demonstrated DKI methods are suitable for in-bore perturbation studies, for example, for investigating microstructural modulations related to sleep/wake-dependent functions of the glymphatic system. Importantly, our study shows an effect of isoflurane anesthesia on rodent brain microstructure that has broad relevance to preclinical dMRI.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberDOI:10.1002/nbm.5033
JournalNMR in Biomedicine
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Sept 2023


  • DKI
  • MRI
  • anesthesia
  • awake
  • extracellular space
  • glymphatic
  • isoflurane
  • mouse


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