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Keywords:

  • MRI;
  • lung morphometry;
  • hyperpolarized gas;
  • diffusion MRI;
  • lung alveoli

The introduction of hyperpolarized gases (3He and 129Xe) has opened the door to applications for which gaseous agents are uniquely suited—lung MRI. One of the pulmonary applications, diffusion MRI, relies on measuring Brownian motion of inhaled hyperpolarized gas atoms diffusing in lung airspaces. In this article we provide an overview of the theoretical ideas behind hyperpolarized gas diffusion MRI and the results obtained over the decade-long research. We describe a simple technique based on measuring gas apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) and an advanced technique, in vivo lung morphometry, that quantifies lung microstructure both in terms of Weibel parameters (acinar airways radii and alveolar depth) and standard metrics (mean linear intercept, surface-to-volume ratio, and alveolar density) that are widely used by lung researchers but were previously available only from invasive lung biopsy. This technique has the ability to provide unique three-dimensional tomographic information on lung microstructure from a less than 15 s MRI scan with results that are in good agreement with direct histological measurements. These safe and sensitive diffusion measurements improve our understanding of lung structure and functioning in health and disease, providing a platform for monitoring the efficacy of therapeutic interventions in clinical trials. Magn Reson Med 71:486–505, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.