A theoretical signal processing framework for linear diffusion MRI: Implications for parameter estimation and experiment design
The data measured in diffusion MRI can be modeled as the Fourier transform of the Ensemble Average Propagator (EAP), a probability distribution that summarizes the molecular diffusion behavior of the spins within each voxel. This Fourier relationship is potentially advantageous because of the extensive theory that has been developed to characterize the sampling requirements, accuracy, and stability of linear Fourier reconstruction methods. However, existing diffusion MRI data sampling and signal estimation methods have largely been developed and tuned without the benefit of such theory, instead relying on approximations, intuition, and extensive empirical evaluation. This paper aims to address this discrepancy by introducing a novel theoretical signal processing framework for diffusion MRI. The new framework can be used to characterize arbitrary linear diffusion estimation methods with arbitrary q-space sampling, and can be used to theoretically evaluate and compare the accuracy, resolution, and noise-resilience of different data acquisition and parameter estimation techniques. The framework is based on the EAP, and makes very limited modeling assumptions. As a result, the approach can even provide new insight into the behavior of model-based linear diffusion estimation methods in contexts where the modeling assumptions are inaccurate. The practical usefulness of the proposed framework is illustrated using both simulated and real diffusion MRI data in applications such as choosing between different parameter estimation methods and choosing between different q-space sampling schemes.