Cardiovascular magnetic resonance physics for clinicians: part I

J Cardiovasc Magn Reson. 2010 Nov 30;12(1):71. doi: 10.1186/1532-429X-12-71.


There are many excellent specialised texts and articles that describe the physical principles of cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) techniques. There are also many texts written with the clinician in mind that provide an understandable, more general introduction to the basic physical principles of magnetic resonance (MR) techniques and applications. There are however very few texts or articles that attempt to provide a basic MR physics introduction that is tailored for clinicians using CMR in their daily practice. This is the first of two reviews that are intended to cover the essential aspects of CMR physics in a way that is understandable and relevant to this group. It begins by explaining the basic physical principles of MR, including a description of the main components of an MR imaging system and the three types of magnetic field that they generate. The origin and method of production of the MR signal in biological systems are explained, focusing in particular on the two tissue magnetisation relaxation properties (T1 and T2) that give rise to signal differences from tissues, showing how they can be exploited to generate image contrast for tissue characterisation. The method most commonly used to localise and encode MR signal echoes to form a cross sectional image is described, introducing the concept of k-space and showing how the MR signal data stored within it relates to properties within the reconstructed image. Before describing the CMR acquisition methods in detail, the basic spin echo and gradient pulse sequences are introduced, identifying the key parameters that influence image contrast, including appearances in the presence of flowing blood, resolution and image acquisition time. The main derivatives of these two pulse sequences used for cardiac imaging are then described in more detail. Two of the key requirements for CMR are the need for data acquisition first to be to be synchronised with the subject's ECG and to be fast enough for the subject to be able to hold their breath. Methods of ECG synchronisation using both triggering and retrospective gating approaches, and accelerated data acquisition using turbo or fast spin echo and gradient echo pulse sequences are therefore outlined in some detail. It is shown how double inversion black blood preparation combined with turbo or fast spin echo pulse sequences acquisition is used to achieve high quality anatomical imaging. For functional cardiac imaging using cine gradient echo pulse sequences two derivatives of the gradient echo pulse sequence; spoiled gradient echo and balanced steady state free precession (bSSFP) are compared. In each case key relevant imaging parameters and vendor-specific terms are defined and explained.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiac-Gated Imaging Techniques* / instrumentation
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Electrocardiography
  • Equipment Design
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / instrumentation
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Cine
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Respiratory Mechanics