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Magn Reson Imaging. 2006 May;24(4):515-25. Epub 2006 Mar 20.

Insights into brain microstructure from the T2 distribution.

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Department of Radiology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.


T2 weighting is particularly sensitive, but notoriously unspecific, to a wide range of brain pathologies. However, careful measurement and analysis of the T2 decay curve from brain tissue promise to provide much improved pathological specificity. In vivo T2 measurement requires accurate 180 pulses and appropriate manipulation of stimulated echoes; the most common approach is to acquire multiple echoes from a single slice. The T2 distribution, a plot of component amplitude as a function of T2, can be estimated using an algorithm capable of fitting a multi-exponential T2 decay with no a priori assumptions about the number of exponential components. T2 distributions from normal brain show peaks from myelin water, intra/extracellular water and cerebral spinal fluid; they can be used to provide estimates of total water content (total area under the T2 distribution) and myelin water fraction (MWF, fractional area under the myelin water peak), a measure believed to be related to myelin content. Experiments on bovine brain suggest that magnetization exchange between water pools plays a minor role in the T2 distribution. Different white matter structures have different MWFs. In normal white matter (NWM), MWF is not correlated with the magnetization transfer ratio (MTR) or the diffusion tensor fractional anisotropy (FA); hence it provides unique information about brain microstructure. Normal-appearing white matter (NAWM) in multiple sclerosis (MS) brain possesses a higher water content and lower MWF than controls, consistent with histopathological findings. Multiple sclerosis lesions demonstrate great heterogeneity in MWF, presumably due to varying myelin contents of these focal regions of pathology. Subjects with schizophrenia were found to have significantly reduced MWF in the minor forceps and genu of the corpus callosum when compared to controls, suggesting that reduced frontal lobe myelination plays a role in schizophrenia. In normal controls, frontal lobe myelination was positively correlated with both age and education; this result was not observed in subjects with schizophrenia. A strong correlation between MWF and the optical density from the luxol fast blue histological stain for myelin was observed in formalin-fixed brain, supporting the use of the MWF as an in vivo myelin marker.

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