Structural MRI provides information to qualitatively and quantitatively describe the shape, size, and integrity of gray and white matter structures in the brain. Broadly speaking, MRI signal varies across tissue types because gray matter contains more cell bodies (e.g., neurons and glial cells) than white matter, which is primarily composed of long-range nerve fibers (myelinated axons), along with supporting glial cells. Morphometric techniques measure the volume or shape of gray matter structures, such as subcortical nuclei or the hippocampus, and the volume, thickness, or surface area of the cerebral neocortex. Macrostructural white matter integrity can also be measured using volumes of normal and abnormal white matter, providing indications of inflammation, edema, or demyelination, complementing microstructural diffusion weighted MRI to provide a comprehensive picture of white matter integrity.
Since brain function depends to some extent on the integrity of brain structure, measures that characterize the underlying tissue integrity also allow one to examine the impact of tissue loss or damage on functional signals. Furthermore, structural MRI provides an anatomical reference for visualization of activation patterns and regions of interest to extract functional signal information.
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