Diffusion tensor imaging of rat spinal cord in vivo

David Anthony Fenyes, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Magnetic resonance imaging, with its exquisite soft tissue contrast, is an ideal modality for investigating spinal cord pathology. While conventional MRI techniques are very sensitive for spinal cord pathology, their specificity is somewhat limited. Diffusion MRI is an advanced technique which is a very sensitive and specific indicator of the integrity of white matter tracts. Diffusion imaging has been shown to detect early ischemic changes in white matter, while conventional imaging demonstrates no change. By acquiring the complete apparent diffusion tensor (ADT), tissue diffusion properties can be expressed in terms of quantitative and rotationally invariant parameters. Systematic study of SCI in vivo requires controlled animal models such as the popular rat model. To date, studies of spinal cord using ADT imaging have been performed exclusively in fixed, excised spinal cords, introducing inevitable artifacts and losing the benefits of MRI's noninvasive nature. In vivo imaging reflects the actual in vivo tissue properties, and allows each animal to be imaged at multiple time points, greatly reducing the number of animals required to achieve statistical significance. Because the spinal cord is very small, the available signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is very low. Prior spin-echo based ADT studies of rat spinal cord have relied on high magnetic field strengths and long imaging times—on the order of 10 hours—for adequate SNR. Such long imaging times are incompatible with in vivo imaging, and are not relevant for imaging the early phases following SCI. Echo planar imaging (EPI) is one of the fastest imaging methods, and is popular for diffusion imaging. However, EPI further lowers the image SNR, and is very sensitive to small imperfections in the magnetic field, such as those introduced by the bony spine. Additionally, The small field-of-view (FOV) needed for spinal cord imaging requires large imaging gradients which generate EPI artifacts. The addition of diffusion gradients introduces yet further artifacts. This work develops a method for rapid EPI-based in vivo diffusion imaging of rat spinal cord. The method involves improving the SNR using an implantable coil; reducing magnetic field inhomogeneities by means of an autoshim, and correcting EPI artifacts by post-processing. New EPI artifacts due to diffusion gradients described, and post-processing correction techniques are developed. These techniques were used to obtain rotationally invariant diffusion parameters from 9 animals in vivo, and were validated using the gold-standard, but slow, spinecho based diffusion sequence. These are the first reported measurements of the ADT in spinal cord in vivo . Many of the techniques described are equally applicable toward imaging of human spinal cord. We anticipate that these techniques will aid in evaluating and optimizing potential therapies, and will lead to improved patient care.

Subject Area

Biomedical research|Electrical engineering|Neurology

Recommended Citation

Fenyes, David Anthony, "Diffusion tensor imaging of rat spinal cord in vivo" (1999). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9942088.