Diffusion gradient

The aim of these diffusion-weighted sequences is to obtain images whose contrast is influenced by the differences in water molecule mobility. This is done by adding diffusion gradients during the preparatory phase of an imaging sequence, usually of the SE-EPI type (spin echo– ultrafast echo planar imaging preparation) that is T2 weighted.

The diffusion gradients are strong and symmetrical in relation to the 180° rephasing pulse:

  • the spins of the immobile water molecules between the applications of the two gradients are dephased by the first gradient and rephased by the second. 
  • the spins of the water molecules that move in the direction of the gradients, during the interval between the two gradient applications, will not be rephased by the second gradient: they dephase in relation to the hydrogen nuclei of the immobile water molecules.

Taking the entire population of water molecules in a voxel, the faster the water molecules diffuse, the more dephased they will be and the weaker the recorded signal.

This technique allows diffusion weighting of any imaging sequence. The echo planar – spin echo sequence is generally preferred for its speed, which limits the (macroscopic) motion artifacts.

Parallel acquisition methods can be used to improve the quality of diffusion images by reducing sequence time, TE and certain artifacts.


Diffusion weighting, ADC

The degree of diffusion weighting of the sequence, expressed as the b-factor (in s/mm2), depends on the characteristics of the diffusion gradients:

  • gradient amplitude
  • application time
  • time between the two gradients

The sensitivity of these sequences is limited to diffusion in the direction of the gradients, so they must be repeated by applying diffusion gradients in at least 3 spatial directions. Diffusion magnitude, calculated from the 3 diffusion images thus obtained, renders the image weighted in global diffusion (trace image). Two diffusion sequences with different b-factors can be used to quantitatively measure the degree of molecular mobility, by calculating the apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC). ADC is represented in the form of a map, whose values (in mm2s-1) no longer depend on T2. An ADC hyposignal thus corresponds to a restriction in diffusion.

In current practice, diffusion imaging of the brain consists of an acquisition with a b-factor b = 0 s/mm2 (T2-weighted) and imaging with a b-factor = 1000 s/mm2 (with diffusion weighting).

Diffusion sequences are actually T2 weighted sequences, sensitized to diffusion by gradients. The contrast of the diffusion image will have both a diffusion and a T2 component, which must be taken into consideration in the interpretation. Namely, a hypersignal in the diffusion image with b = 1000 s/mm2 can either correspond to a diffusion restriction or to a lesion that is already in T2 hypersignal (T2-shine-through).


Diffusion gradients and b-factor

b-factor is determined by the following relationship:


with :

  • G = gradient amplitude
  • t = gradient application time
  • Δ = interval between the centers of the two diffusion gradients


The stronger the gradients, the longer they are applied and the more spread out in time, the greater the b-factor.

The advantage of strong gradients is that they avoid the need to lengthen gradient time and spacing, which would impose an even longer TE (without removing the T2 weighting part of the signal).


Calculating the apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC)

The relationship between b-factor and diffusion signal weighting is of the type:


If we have twin acquisitions with different b-factors, the ADC can be calculated :


T2-weighted and Diffusion-weighted signal


  Diffusion-weighted image (b1000)
 (Diffusion + T2)
T2 -weigthed signal (B0)



(Diffusion alone)

Restricted diffusion hyper iso hypo
hyper ++ hyper hypo
T2-shine-through hyper hyper iso
Accelerated diffusion hypo iso hyper
iso hyper hyper
T2-dark-through hypo hypo iso