A comparison of inhomogeneous magnetization transfer, myelin volume fraction, and diffusion tensor imaging measures in healthy children
Sensitive and specific biomarkers of myelin can help define baseline brain health and development, identify and monitor disease pathology, and evaluate response to treatment where myelin content is affected. Diffusion measures such as radial diffusivity (RD) are commonly used to assess myelin content, but are not specific to myelin. Inhomogeneous magnetization transfer (ihMT) and multicomponent driven equilibrium single-pulse observation of T1 and T2 (mcDESPOT) offer quantitative parameters (qihMT and myelin volume fraction/VFm, respectively) which are suggested to have improved sensitivity to myelin. We compared RD, qihMT, and VFm in a cohort of 23 healthy children aged 8-13 years to evaluate the similarities and differences across these measures. All 3 measures were significantly related across brain voxels, but VFm and qihMT were significantly more strongly correlated (qihMT-VFm r = 0.89) than either measure was with RD (RD-qihMT r = -0.66, RD-VFm r = -0.74; all p < 0.001). Mean parameters differed in several regions, especially in subcortical gray matter. These differences can likely be explained by unique sensitivities of each measure to non-myelin factors, such as crossing fiber geometry, axonal packing, fiber orientation, glial density, or magnetization transfer effects in a voxel. We also observed an orientation dependence of qihMT in white matter, such that qihMT decreased as fiber orientation went from parallel to perpendicular to B0. All measures appear to be sensitive to myelin content, though qihMT and VFm appear to be more specific to it than RD. Scan time, noise tolerance, and resolution requirements may inform researchers of the appropriate measure to choose for a specific application.
Geeraert, B. L., Lebel, R. M., Mah, A. C., Deoni, S. C., Alsop, D. C., Varma, G., & Lebel, C. (2017). A comparison of inhomogeneous magnetization transfer, myelin volume fraction, and diffusion tensor imaging measures in healthy children. NeuroImage. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.09.019