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Magn Reson Med. 2011 Jan;65(1):35-43. doi: 10.1002/mrm.22604.

The contribution of chemical exchange to MRI frequency shifts in brain tissue.

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Advanced MRI Section, Laboratory of Functional and Molecular Imaging, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.


Recent high-field MRI studies based on resonance frequency contrast have revealed brain structure with unprecedented detail. Although subtle magnetic susceptibility variations caused by iron and myelin seem to be important to this contrast, recent research on protein solutions suggests that chemical exchange between water and macromolecular protons may contribute substantially to the observed gray-white matter frequency contrast. To investigate this, we performed spectroscopic MRI experiments at 14 T on samples of fixed human visual cortex and fresh pig brain. To allow direct observation of any exchange-induced frequency shifts, these samples were soaked in reference chemicals (TSP and dioxane) that are assumed not to be involved in exchange. For both fresh and fixed tissues and with both reference chemicals, substantial negative exchange-induced gray-white matter frequency contrast (-6.3 to -13.5 ppb) was found, whereas intracortical contrast was negligible. The sign of the gray-white matter exchange-induced frequency difference was opposite to the overall gray-white matter frequency difference observed in vivo. This suggests that exchange contributes to, but is not sufficient to explain, the frequency contrast in vivo and tissue susceptibility differences may have a greater contribution than previously thought. The exchange-dependent contribution may report on tissue chemical composition and pH.

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