Estimating axon conduction velocity in vivo from microstructural MRI

Mark Drakesmith*, Robbert Harms, Suryanarayana Umesh Rudrapatna, Greg D. Parker, C. John Evans, Derek K. Jones

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

29 Citations (Web of Science)


The conduction velocity (CV) of action potentials along axons is a key neurophysiological property central to neural communication. The ability to estimate CV in humans in vivo from non-invasive MRI methods would therefore represent a significant advance in neuroscience. However, there are two major challenges that this paper aims to address: (1) Much of the complexity of the neurophysiology of action potentials cannot be captured with currently available MRI techniques. Therefore, we seek to establish the variability in CV that can be captured when predicting CV purely from parameters that have been reported to be estimatable from MRI: inner axon diameter (AD) and g-ratio. (2) errors inherent in existing MRI-based biophysical models of tissue will propagate through to estimates of CV, the extent to which is currently unknown. Issue (1) is investigated by performing a sensitivity analysis on a comprehensive model of axon electrophysiology and determining the relative sensitivity to various morphological and electrical parameters. The investigations suggest that 85% of the variance in CV is accounted for by variation in AD and g-ratio. The observed dependency of CV on AD and g-ratio is well characterised by the previously reported model by Rushton. Issue (2) is investigated through simulation of diffusion and relaxometry MRI data for a range of axon morphologies, applying models of restricted diffusion and relaxation processes to derive estimates of axon volume fraction (AVF), AD and g-ratio and estimating CV from the derived parameters. The results show that errors in the AVF have the biggest detrimental impact on estimates of CV, particularly for sparse fibre populations (AVF). For our equipment set-up and acquisition protocol, CV estimates are most accurate (below 5% error) where AVF is above 0.3, g-ratio is between 0.6 and 0.85 and AD is high (above ). CV estimates are robust to errors in g-ratio estimation but are highly sensitive to errors in AD estimation, particularly where ADs are small. We additionally show CV estimates in human corpus callosum in a small number of subjects. In conclusion, we demonstrate accurate CV estimates are possible in regions of the brain where AD is sufficiently large. Problems with estimating ADs for smaller axons presents a problem for estimating CV across the whole CNS and should be the focus of further study.
Original languageEnglish
Article number116186
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • conduction velocity
  • Axon diameter
  • Myelin
  • G-ratio
  • Diffusion MRI
  • Relaxometry MRI
  • Tissue micro-structure
  • Biophysical modelling
  • White matter
  • Axons
  • Action potentials
  • Optic nerve
  • Corpus callosum

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