Mini Review on Anomalous Diffusion by MRI: Potential Advantages, Pitfalls, Limitations, Nomenclature, and Correct Interpretation of Literature

Silvia Capuani, Marco Palombo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


In this mini-review, we addressed the transient-anomalous diffusion by MRI, starting from the assumption that transient-anomalous diffusion is ubiquitously observed in biological tissues, as demonstrated by different single-particle-tracking optical experiments. The purpose of this review is to identify the main pitfalls that can be encountered when venturing into the field of anomalous diffusion quantified by diffusion-MRI methods. Therefore, the theory of anomalous diffusion deriving from its mathematical definition was reported and connected with the consolidated description and the established procedures of conventional diffusion-MRI of tissues. We highlighted the two different modalities for quantifying subdiffusion and superdiffusion parameters of anomalous diffusion. Then we showed that most of the papers concerning anomalous diffusion, actually deal with pseudo-superdiffusion due to the use of a superdiffusion signal representation. Pseudo-superdiffusion depends on water diffusion multi-compartmentalization and local magnetic in-homogeneities that mimic the superdiffusion of spins. In addition to the relatively large production of pseudosuperdiffusion images, anomalous diffusion research is still in its early stages due to the limited flexibility of conventional clinical MRI scanners that currently prevent the acquisition of diffusion-weighted images by varying the diffusion time (the necessary acquisition modality to quantify transient-subdiffusion in human tissues). Moreover, the wide diffusion gradient pulses complicates the definition of a reliable function representative of anomalous diffusion signal behavior to fit data. Nevertheless, it is important and possible to address these limitations, as one of the potentialities of anomalous diffusion imaging is to increase the resolution, sensitivity, and specificity of MRI.

Original languageEnglish
Article number248
JournalFrontiers in Physics
Publication statusPublished - Jan 17 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • anomalous diffusion
  • diffusion NMR
  • internal magnetic field gradients
  • magnetic susceptibility
  • pseudo-superdiffusion
  • subdiffusion
  • superdiffusion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Materials Science (miscellaneous)
  • Mathematical Physics
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry

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