Purpose: To develop a reliable technique for diffusion imaging of the human spinal cord at 1.5 Tesla and to assess potential differences in diffusion anisotropy in cross-sectional images.
Materials and methods: A single-shot echo-planar imaging sequence with double spin-echo diffusion preparation was optimized regarding cerebrospinal fluid artifacts, effective resolution, and contrast-to-noise ratios. Eleven healthy volunteers participated in the study for quantitative characterization of diffusion anisotropy in white matter (WM) and gray matter (GM) by means of two diffusion encoding schemes: octahedral-six-directions for fractional anisotropy (FA) evaluation and orthogonal-three-directions for anisotropy index (AI) calculation.
Results: Pulse-trigger gated sequences with optimal matrix size (read x phase = 64 x 32) and b-value (700 s/mm(2)) allowed the acquisition of high-resolved images (voxel size = 0.9 x 0.9 x 5.0 mm(3)). The GM butterfly shape was recognizable in both AI and FA maps. Both encoding schemes yielded high diffusion anisotropy in dorsal WM (FA = 0.79 +/- 0.07; AI = 0.39 +/- 0.04). Lateral WM showed slightly lower anisotropy (FA = 0.69 +/- 0.08; AI = 0.35 +/- 0.03) than dorsal WM. Clearly smaller anisotropy was found in regions containing GM (FA = 0.45 +/- 0.06; AI = 0.21 +/- 0.05).
Conclusion: Diffusion anisotropy data of the spinal cord can be obtained in a clinical setting. Its application seems promising for the assessment of neurological disorders.