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Reactive microgliosis is an important pathological component of neuroinflammation and has been implicated in a wide range of brain diseases including brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and schizophrenia. Mapping reactive microglia in-vivo is often performed with PET scanning whose resolution, cost, and availability prevent its widespread use. The advent of diffusion compartment imaging (DCI) to probe tissue microstructure in vivo holds promise to map reactive microglia using MRI scanners. But this potential has never been demonstrated. In this paper, we performed longitudinal DCI in rats that underwent dorsal root axotomy triggering Wallerian degeneration of axons-a pathological process which reliably activates microglia. After the last DCI at 51 days, rats were sacrificed and histology with Iba-1 immunostaining for microglia was performed. The fraction of extra-axonal restricted diffusion from DCI was found to follow the expected temporal dynamics of reactive microgliosis. Furthermore, a strong and significant correlation between this parameter and histological measurement of microglial density was observed. These findings strongly suggest that extra-axonal restricted diffusion is an in-vivo marker of reactive microglia. They pave the way for MRI-based microglial mapping which may be important to characterize the pathogenesis of neurological and psychiatric diseases.

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Animals, Axons, Brain Diseases, Female, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Microglia, Rats, Rats, Long-Evans, Wallerian Degeneration