Affiliations: School of Chemistry, Physics and Mechanical Engineering, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
Note:  Address for correspondence: School of Chemistry, Physics and Mechanical Engineering, Queensland University of Technology, GPO Box 2434, Brisbane, QLD 4001, Australia. Fax: +61 7 3138 9079; E-mail: [email protected]
Abstract: We present a mini-review of the development and contemporary applications of diffusion-sensitive nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) techniques in biomedical sciences. Molecular diffusion is a fundamental physical phenomenon present in all biological systems. Due to the connection between experimentally measured diffusion metrics and the microscopic environment sensed by the diffusing molecules, diffusion measurements can be used for characterisation of molecular size, molecular binding and association, and the morphology of biological tissues. The emergence of magnetic resonance was instrumental to the development of biomedical applications of diffusion. We discuss the fundamental physical principles of diffusion NMR spectroscopy and diffusion MR imaging. The emphasis is placed on conceptual understanding, historical evolution and practical applications rather than complex technical details. Mathematical description of diffusion is presented to the extent that it is required for the basic understanding of the concepts. We present a wide range of spectroscopic and imaging applications of diffusion magnetic resonance, including colloidal drug delivery vehicles; protein association; characterisation of cell morphology; neural fibre tractography; cardiac imaging; and the imaging of load-bearing connective tissues. This paper is intended as an accessible introduction into the exciting and growing field of diffusion magnetic resonance.
Keywords: Diffusion tensor imaging, magnetic resonance imaging, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, Stejskal–Tanner plot, Stokes–Einstein formula, restricted diffusion