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Neuroimage. 2009 Feb 1;44(3):820-6. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.09.054. Epub 2008 Oct 19.

Postmortem interval alters the water relaxation and diffusion properties of rat nervous tissue--implications for MRI studies of human autopsy samples.

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Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging, University of California-San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143-0628, USA.


High-resolution imaging of human autopsy tissues may improve our understanding of in vivo MRI findings, but interpretation is complicated because samples are obtained by immersion fixation following a postmortem interval (PMI). This study tested the hypotheses that immersion fixation and PMI's from 0-24 h would alter the water relaxation and diffusion properties in rat cortical slice and spinal cord models of human nervous tissue. Diffusion data collected from rat cortical slices at multiple diffusion times (10-60 ms) and b-values (7-15,000 s/mm(2)) were analyzed using a two-compartment model with exchange. Rat spinal cords were characterized with standard diffusion tensor imaging (21 directions, b=1250 s/mm(2)). Switching from perfusion- to immersion-fixation at 0 h PMI altered most MRI properties of rat cortical slices and spinal cords, including a 22% decrease in fractional anisotropy (P<0.001). After 4 h PMI, cortical slice T(1) and T(2) increased 22% and 65% respectively (P<0.001), transmembrane water exchange decreased 23% (P<0.001) and intracellular proton fraction increased 25% (P=0.002). After 6 h PMI, spinal cord white matter fractional anisotropy had decreased 38% (P<0.001). MRI property changes were observed for PMIs up to 24 h. The MRI changes correlated with protease activity and histopathological signs of autolysis. Thus, immersion fixation and/or even short PMIs (4-6 h) altered the MRI properties of rat nervous tissue. This suggests comparisons between in vivo clinical MRI and MRI data from human autopsy tissues should be interpreted with caution.

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