Magnetization transfer (MT) imaging quantitatively assesses cerebral white matter disease through its sensitivity to macromolecule-bound protons including those associated with myelin proteins and lipid bilayers. However, traditional MT contrast measured by the MT ratio (MTR) lacks pathologic specificity as demyelination, axon loss, inflammation and edema all impact MTR, directly and/or indirectly through multiple covariances among imaging parameters (particularly MTR with T(1)) and tissue features (e.g. axon loss with demyelination). In this study, more complex modeling of MT phenomena ("quantitative" MT or qMT) was applied to a less complex disease model (the myelin mutant shaking [sh] pup, featuring hypomyelination but neither inflammation nor axon loss) in order to eliminate the covariances on both sides of the MR-pathology "equation" and characterize these important relationships free from the usual confounds. qMT measurements were acquired longitudinally in 6 sh pups and 4 age-matched controls ranging from 3 to 21 months of age and compared with histology. The qMT parameter, bound pool fraction (f), was the most distinctive between diseased and control animals; both f and longitudinal relaxation rate R(1) tracked myelination with normal aging, whereas MTR did not--presumably owing to counterbalancing MT and R(1) effects. qMT imaging provides a more accurate and potentially more specific non-invasive tissue characterization.
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