Physiological noise in murine solid tumours using T2*-weighted gradient-echo imaging: a marker of tumour acute hypoxia?

Phys Med Biol. 2004 Aug 7;49(15):3389-411. doi: 10.1088/0031-9155/49/15/006.


T2*-weighted gradient-echo magnetic resonance imaging (T2*-weighted GRE MRI) was used to investigate spontaneous fluctuations in tumour vasculature non-invasively. FSa fibrosarcomas, implanted intramuscularly (i.m.) in the legs of mice, were imaged at 4.7 T, over a 30 min or 1 h sampling period. On a voxel-by-voxel basis, time courses of signal intensity were analysed using a power spectrum density (PSD) analysis to isolate voxels for which signal changes did not originate from Gaussian white noise or linear drift. Under baseline conditions, the tumours exhibited spontaneous signal fluctuations showing spatial and temporal heterogeneity over the tumour. Statistically significant fluctuations occurred at frequencies ranging from 1 cycle/3 min to 1 cycle/h. The fluctuations were independent of the scanner instabilities. Two categories of signal fluctuations were reported: (i) true fluctuations (TFV), i.e., sequential signal increase and decrease, and (ii) profound drop in signal intensity with no apparent signal recovery (SDV). No temporal correlation between tumour and contralateral muscle fluctuations was observed. Furthermore, treatments aimed at decreasing perfusion-limited hypoxia, such as carbogen combined with nicotinamide and flunarizine, decreased the incidence of tumour T2*-weighted GRE fluctuations. We also tracked dynamic changes in T2* using multiple GRE imaging. Fluctuations of T2* were observed; however, fluctuation maps using PSD analysis could not be generated reliably. An echo-time dependency of the signal fluctuations was observed, which is typical to physiological noise. Finally, at the end of T2*-weighted GRE MRI acquisition, a dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI was performed to characterize the microenvironment in which tumour signal fluctuations occurred in terms of vessel functionality, vascularity and microvascular permeability. Our data showed that TFV were predominantly located in regions with functional vessels, whereas SDV occurred in regions with no contrast enhancement as the result of vessel functional impairment. Furthermore, transient fluctuations appeared to occur preferentially in neoangiogenic hyperpermeable vessels. The present study suggests that spontaneous T2*-weighted GRE fluctuations are very likely to be related to the spontaneous fluctuations in blood flow and oxygenation associated with the pathophysiology of acute hypoxia in tumours. The disadvantage of the T2*-weighted GRE MRI technique is the complexity of signal interpretation with regard to pO2 changes. Compared to established techniques such as intravital microscopy or histological assessments, the major advantage of the MRI technique lies in its capacity to provide simultaneously both temporal and detailed spatial information on spontaneous fluctuations throughout the tumour.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Carbon Dioxide / pharmacology
  • Cell Hypoxia / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Computer Simulation
  • Fibrosarcoma / diagnosis*
  • Fibrosarcoma / metabolism*
  • Flunarizine / pharmacology
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C3H
  • Models, Biological*
  • Niacinamide / pharmacology
  • Oxygen / metabolism*
  • Oxygen / pharmacology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Stochastic Processes


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Niacinamide
  • carbogen
  • Flunarizine
  • Oxygen