Comparison of magnetic resonance imaging in live vs. post mortem rat brains

PLoS One. 2013 Aug 13;8(8):e71027. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0071027. eCollection 2013.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is an increasingly popular technique for examining neurobiology in rodents because it is both noninvasive and nondestructive. MRI scans can be acquired from either live or post mortem specimens. In vivo scans have a key advantage in that subjects can be scanned at multiple time-points in longitudinal studies. However, repeated exposure to anesthesia and stress may confound studies. In contrast, post mortem scans offer improved image quality and increased signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) due to several key advantages: First, the images are not disrupted by motion and pulsation artifacts. Second, they allow the brain tissue to be perfused with contrast agents, enhancing tissue contrast. Third, they allow longer image acquisition times, yielding higher resolution and/or improved SNR. Fourth, they allow assessment of groups of animals at the same age without scheduling complications. Despite these advantages, researchers are often skeptical of post mortem MRI scans because of uncertainty about whether the fixation process alters the MRI measurements. To address these concerns, we present a thorough comparative study of in vivo and post mortem MRI scans in healthy male Wistar rats at three age points throughout adolescence (postnatal days 28 through 80). For each subject, an in vivo scan was acquired, followed by perfusion and two post mortem scans at two different MRI facilities. The goal was to assess robustness of measurements, to detect any changes in volumetric measurements after fixation, and to investigate any differential bias that may exist between image acquisition techniques. We present this volumetric analysis for comparison of 22 anatomical structures between in vivo and post mortem scans. No significant changes in volumetric measurements were detected; however, as hypothesized, the image quality is dramatically improved in post mortem scans. These findings illustrate the validity and utility of using post mortem scans in volumetric neurobiological studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autopsy*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / standards
  • Male
  • Organ Size
  • Rats
  • Signal-To-Noise Ratio