TU-EF-BRA-03: Free Induction Decay (without the Decay) and Spin-Echo Imaging



  • I.NMR, and Proton Density MRI of the 1D Patient - Anthony Wolbarst
  • II.Net Voxel Magnetization, m(x,t). T1-MRI; The MRI Device - Lisa Lemen
  • III.‘Classical’ NMR; FID Imaging in 1D via k-Space - Nathan Yanasak
  • IV.Spin-Echo; S-E/Spin Warp in a 2D Slice - Ronald Price

Magnetic resonance imaging not only reveals the structural, anatomic details of the body, as does CT, but also it can provide information on the physiological status and pathologies of its tissues, like nuclear medicine. It can display high-quality slice and 3D images of organs and vessels viewed from any perspective, with resolution better than 1 mm. MRI is perhaps most extraordinary and notable for the plethora of ways in which it can create unique forms of image contrast, reflective of fundamentally different biophysical phenomena.

As with ultrasound, there is no risk from ionizing radiation to the patient or staff, since no X-rays or radioactive nuclei are involved. Instead, MRI harnesses magnetic fields and radio waves to probe the stable nuclei of the ordinary hydrogen atoms (isolated protons) occurring in water and lipid molecules within and around cells. MRI consists, in essence, of creating spatial maps of the electromagnetic environments around these hydrogen nuclei. Spatial variations in the proton milieus can be related to clinical differences in the biochemical and physiological properties and conditions of the associated tissues.

Imaging of proton density (PD), and of the tissue proton spin relaxation times known as T1 and T2, all can reveal important clinical information, but they do so with approaches so dissimilar from one another that each is chosen for only certain clinical situations. T1 and T2 in a voxel are determined by different aspects of the rotations and other motions of the water and lipid molecules involved, as constrained by the local biophysical surroundings within and between its cells – and they, in turn, depend on the type of tissue and its state of health.

Three other common applications of MRI exploit its capability to detect and image distinct movements of fluids: MR angiography (MRA), which rivals CT angiography but often requires no contrast medium, monitors the bulk flow of blood; functional MRI ( f MRI), distinguishes the perfusion of oxygenated blood from that of de-oxygenated, and lights up parts of the brain that are activated by a stimulus, rather like PET; and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) indicates the diffusion of free water along tracts of axons, thereby bringing nerve trunks into view. There are variants on all of these themes, and on others as well. Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS), for example, can perform non-invasive ‘virtual biopsies’ that allow identification of certain cancers and other lesions. And an MRI-guided needle biopsy can sample brain tissue from a region only millimeters in dimensions.

MRI, however, involves deeper and more complex aspects of physics, technology, and biology than do most other imaging modalities, and it is widely considered to be correspondingly more difficult to learn. We could probably cover all of this rather comprehensively if we had 50 hours available rather than 2 ̶ but, to paraphrase a former Secretary of Defense, you tell your story in the time you have allotted.

The four presenters and another physicist, Kevin King from GE, have combined their efforts to co-author a single slide show that describes essentials of MRI as simply as possible. It is obviously far from thorough, but hopefully it will succeed in explaining some of the basics in a simplified but still valid fashion; in providing a taste of the numerous capabilities and complexities of the modality; and in whetting your appetite to learn more.

Part I. NMR, and Proton Density MRI of the 1D Patient (Wolbarst), begins with an introductory case study that illustrates a half dozen ways in which MRI provides valuable clinical information. It then explores the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) phenomenon, which underlies MRI. NMR can be introduced with either of two approaches. In the first, one thinks (loosely) of the nuclei of hydrogen atoms as (rotating and charged and therefore) magnetic objects, whose spin-axes tend to align in a strong external magnetic field, much like a compass needle. As with the Bohr atom, this spin-up/spin-down picture is a highly abridged version of the full quantum mechanical treatment, but still it leads to some useful, legitimate pictures of the NMR process occurring within a voxel: When RF photons of the correct (Larmor) frequency elevate protons in a fixed magnetic field out of their lower-energy spin state into the upper, the NMR phenomenon is indicated by the detectable absorption of RF power. With the addition of a linear gradient field along a multi-voxel, one-dimensional patient/phantom, as well, we can determine the water content of each compartment – an example of a real MRI study, albeit in 1D. Part I concludes with a discussion of the net magnetization at position x, m0(x), under conditions of dynamic thermal equilibrium, which leads into:

Part II. Net Voxel Magnetization, m(x,t); T1-MRI; The MRI Device (Lemen), investigates the biophysics of the form of proton spin relaxation process characterized by the time T1. It then moves on to the creation of an MR image that displays the spatial variation in the values of this clinically relevant parameter, again in 1D. Finally, the design and workings of a clinical MRI machine are sketched, in preparation for:

Part III. ‘Classical’ NMR; FID Imaging in 1D via k-Space (Yanasak) presents the second standard approach to NMR and MRI, the classical model. It focuses on the time dependence of the net nuclear magnetization, m(x,t), the overall magnetic field generated by the cohort of protons in the voxel at position x. Quite remarkably, this nuclear net magnetization itself acts in a strong magnetic field like a gyroscope in a gravitational field. This tack is better for explaining Free Induction Decay (FID), which involves a brief introduction to the Fourier transform and k-space. This leads to conventional Spin-Echo (S-E) reconstruction techniques for creating clinical images from raw data, and sets the stage for:

Part IV. Spin-Echo; S-E / Spin Warp in a 2D Slice (Price) discusses application of the S- E sequence of radiofrequency pulses and gradient magnetic fields to the 1D patient. T2 is introduced but not explained. This Part also considers how to manipulate the image acquisition parameters so as to generate clinical pictures with contrast dominated by spatial variations in PD, T1, or T2. We conclude by demonstrating the spin-warp approach to imaging in 2D with a simple 2×2, 4-voxel example.

Much of this material is presented in more detail in the chapter “MRI of the One-dimensional Patient, Part I”, in Advances in Medical Physics, Vol 5 (2014). Copies are on display at the Medical Physics Publishing booth.

Learning Objectives:

  • 1.The participant will learn about the processes of NMR and T1 spin relaxation in a tissue voxel in a uniform magnetic field.
  • 2.The participant will learn about combining spin-up/spin-down NMR and T1 processes with a linear gradient to effect frequency-encoding of voxel spatial position. This approach can be used to create proton density and T1 MRI maps, respectively, of the contents of multi-voxel 1D phantoms.
  • 3.The participant will learn about how the ‘classical’ model of NMR it can generate Free Induction Decay (FID) images of 1D phantoms, which involves the use of the Fourier transform in k-space. This can lead simply into standard Spin-Echo images.
  • 4.The participant will learn about extending Spin-Echo imaging into 2 and more dimensions.