Diffusion magnetic resonance imaging datasets suffer from low Signal-to-Noise Ratio, especially at high b-values. Acquiring data at high b-values contains relevant information and is now of great interest for microstructural and connectomics studies. High noise levels bias the measurements due to the non-Gaussian nature of the noise, which in turn can lead to a false and biased estimation of the diffusion parameters. Additionally, the usage of in-plane acceleration techniques during the acquisition leads to a spatially varying noise distribution, which depends on the parallel acceleration method implemented on the scanner. This paper proposes a novel diffusion MRI denoising technique that can be used on all existing data, without adding to the scanning time. We first apply a statistical framework to convert the noise to Gaussian distributed noise, effectively removing the bias. We then introduce a spatially and angular adaptive denoising technique, the Non Local Spatial and Angular Matching (NLSAM) algorithm. Each volume is first decomposed in small 4D overlapping patches to capture the structure of the diffusion data and a dictionary of atoms is learned on those patches. A local sparse decomposition is then found by bounding the reconstruction error with the local noise variance. We compare against three other state-of-the-art denoising methods and show quantitative local and connectivity results on a synthetic phantom and on an in-vivo high resolution dataset. Overall, our method restores perceptual information, removes the noise bias in common diffusion metrics, restores the extracted peaks coherence and improves reproducibility of tractography. Our work paves the way for higher spatial resolution acquisition of diffusion MRI datasets, which could in turn reveal new anatomical details that are not discernible at the spatial resolution currently used by the diffusion MRI community.
St-Jean, S., P. Coupé and M. Descoteaux. Non Local Spatial and Angular Matching : Enabling higher spatial resolution diffusion MRI datasets through adaptive denoising Medical Image Analysis, Volume 32, August 2016, Pages 115-130, ISSN 1361-8415. doi:10.1016/j.media.2016.02.010