Nicolas Moutal, Antoine Moutal, Denis S. Grebenkov
The Bloch-Torrey equation governs the evolution of the transverse magnetization in diffusion magnetic resonance imaging, where two mechanisms are at play: diffusion of spins (Laplacian term) and their precession in a magnetic field gradient (imaginary potential term). In this paper, we study this equation in a periodic medium: a unit cell repeated over the nodes of a lattice. Although the gradient term of the equation is not invariant by lattice translations, the equation can be analyzed within a single unit cell by replacing a continuous-time gradient profile by narrow pulses. In this approximation, the effects of precession and diffusion are separated and the problem is reduced to the study of a sequence of diffusion equations with pseudo-periodic boundary conditions. This representation allows for efficient numerical computations as well as new theoretical insights into the formation of the signal in periodic media. In particular, we study the eigenmodes and eigenvalues of the Bloch-Torrey operator. We show how the localization of eigenmodes is related to branching points in the spectrum and we discuss low- and high-gradient asymptotic behaviors. The range of validity of the approximation is discussed; interestingly the method turns out to be more accurate and efficient at high gradient, being thus an important complementary tool to conventional numerical methods that are most accurate at low gradients.