Alterations to the cerebral microcirculation have been recognized to play a crucial role in the development of neurodegenerative disorders. However, the exact role of the microvascular alterations in the pathophysiological mechanisms often remains poorly understood. The early detection of changes in microcirculation and cerebral blood flow (CBF) can be used to get a better understanding of underlying disease mechanisms. This could be an important step towards the development of new treatment approaches. Animal models allow for the study of the disease mechanism at several stages of development, before the onset of clinical symptoms, and the verification with invasive imaging techniques. Specifically, pre-clinical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an important tool for the development and validation of MRI sequences under clinically relevant conditions. This article reviews MRI strategies providing indirect non-invasive measurements of microvascular changes in the rodent brain that can be used for early detection and characterization of neurodegenerative disorders. The perfusion MRI techniques: Dynamic Contrast Enhanced (DCE), Dynamic Susceptibility Contrast Enhanced (DSC) and Arterial Spin Labeling (ASL), will be discussed, followed by less established imaging strategies used to analyze the cerebral microcirculation: Intravoxel Incoherent Motion (IVIM), Vascular Space Occupancy (VASO), Steady-State Susceptibility Contrast (SSC), Vessel size imaging, SAGE-based DSC, Phase Contrast Flow (PC) Quantitative Susceptibility Mapping (QSM) and quantitative Blood-Oxygenation-Level-Dependent (qBOLD). We will emphasize the advantages and limitations of each strategy, in particular on applications for high-field MRI in the rodent’s brain.
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