Recent studies have proposed that glycosaminoglycan chemical exchange saturation transfer (gagCEST) is associated with a loss of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), which may be an initiating factor in intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration. Despite its promising potential, this application has not been reported in human in vivo IVD studies because of the challenges of B(0) magnetic field inhomogeneity in gagCEST. This study aimed to evaluate the feasibility of quantifying CEST values in IVDs of healthy volunteers using a clinical 3 T scanner. A single-slice turbo spin echo sequence was used to quantify the CEST effect in various GAG phantoms and in IVDs of 12 volunteers. The phantom results indicated high correlation between gagCEST and GAG concentrations (R(2) = 0.95). With optimal B(0) inhomogeneity correction, in vivo CEST maps of IVDs showed robust contrast between the nucleus pulposus (NP) and the annulus fibrosus (AF) (p < 0.01), as well as higher signal in the central relative to the peripheral NP. In addition, a trend of decreasing CEST values from upper to lower disc levels was evident in NP. Our results demonstrate that in vivo gagCEST quantification in human lumbar IVDs is feasible at 3 T in combination with successful B(0) inhomogeneity correction, but without significant hardware modifications. Our initial findings suggest that it would be worthwhile to perform direct correlation studies between CEST and GAGs using cadaver samples, and to extend this novel technique to studies on patients with degenerative discs to better understand its distinct imaging features relative to conventional techniques.
Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.