k-space sampling optimization for ultrashort TE imaging of cortical bone: Applications in radiation therapy planning and MR-based PET attenuation correction

Authors


Abstract

Purpose:

The ultrashort echo-time (UTE) sequence is a promising MR pulse sequence for imaging cortical bone which is otherwise difficult to image using conventional MR sequences and also poses strong attenuation for photons in radiation therapy and PET imaging. The authors report here a systematic characterization of cortical bone signal decay and a scanning time optimization strategy for the UTE sequence through k-space undersampling, which can result in up to a 75% reduction in acquisition time. Using the undersampled UTE imaging sequence, the authors also attempted to quantitatively investigate the MR properties of cortical bone in healthy volunteers, thus demonstrating the feasibility of using such a technique for generating bone-enhanced images which can be used for radiation therapy planning and attenuation correction with PET/MR.

Methods:

An angularly undersampled, radially encoded UTE sequence was used for scanning the brains of healthy volunteers. Quantitative MR characterization of tissue properties, including water fraction and R2 = 1/T2, was performed by analyzing the UTE images acquired at multiple echo times. The impact of different sampling rates was evaluated through systematic comparison of the MR image quality, bone-enhanced image quality, image noise, water fraction, and R2 of cortical bone.

Results:

A reduced angular sampling rate of the UTE trajectory achieves acquisition durations in proportion to the sampling rate and in as short as 25% of the time required for full sampling using a standard Cartesian acquisition, while preserving unique MR contrast within the skull at the cost of a minimal increase in noise level. The R2 of human skull was measured as 0.2–0.3 ms−1 depending on the specific region, which is more than ten times greater than the R2 of soft tissue. The water fraction in human skull was measured to be 60%–80%, which is significantly less than the >90% water fraction in brain. High-quality, bone-enhanced images can be generated using a reduced sampled UTE sequence with no visible compromise in image quality and they preserved bone-to-air contrast with as low as a 25% sampling rate.

Conclusions:

This UTE strategy with angular undersampling preserves the image quality and contrast of cortical bone, while reducing the total scanning time by as much as 75%. The quantitative results of R2 and the water fraction of skull based on Dixon analysis of UTE images acquired at multiple echo times provide guidance for the clinical adoption and further parameter optimization of the UTE sequence when used for radiation therapy and MR-based PET attenuation correction.

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