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Higher order diffusion imaging as a putative index of human sleep-related microstructural changes and glymphatic clearance

Örzsik, Balázs, Palombo, Marco ORCID:, Asllani, Iris, Dijk, Derk-Jan, Harrison, Neil A. ORCID: and Cercignani, Mara ORCID: 2023. Higher order diffusion imaging as a putative index of human sleep-related microstructural changes and glymphatic clearance. NeuroImage 274 , 120124. 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2023.120124

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The brain has a unique macroscopic waste clearance system, termed the glymphatic system which utilises perivascular tunnels surrounded by astroglia to promote cerebrospinal-interstitial fluid exchange. Rodent studies have demonstrated a marked increase in glymphatic clearance during sleep which has been linked to a sleep-induced expansion of the extracellular space and concomitant reduction in intracellular volume. However, despite being implicated in the pathophysiology of multiple human neurodegenerative disorders, non-invasive techniques for imaging glymphatic clearance in humans are currently limited. Here we acquired multi-shell diffusion weighted MRI (dwMRI) in twenty-one healthy young participants (6 female, 22.3 ± 3.2 years) each scanned twice, once during wakefulness and once during sleep induced by a combination of one night of sleep deprivation and 10mg of the hypnotic zolpidem 30 minutes before scanning. To capture hypothesised sleep-associated changes in intra/extracellular space, dwMRI were analysed using higher order diffusion modelling with the prediction that sleep-associated increases in interstitial (extracellular) fluid volume would result in a decrease in diffusion kurtosis, particularly in areas associated with slow wave generation at the onset of sleep. In line with our hypothesis, we observed a global reduction in diffusion kurtosis (t15=2.82, p=0.006) during sleep as well as regional reductions in brain areas associated with slow wave generation during early sleep and default mode network areas that are highly metabolically active during wakefulness. Analysis with a higher-order representation of diffusion (MAP-MRI) further indicated that changes within the intra/extracellular domain rather than membrane permeability likely underpin the observed sleep-associated decrease in kurtosis. These findings identify higher-order modelling of dwMRI as a potential new non-invasive method for imaging glymphatic clearance and extend rodent findings to suggest that sleep is also associated with an increase in interstitial fluid volume in humans.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Computer Science & Informatics
Additional Information: License information from Publisher: LICENSE 1: URL:, Start Date: 2023-04-18
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 1053-8119
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 24 April 2023
Date of Acceptance: 18 April 2023
Last Modified: 04 May 2023 03:30

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