During the last five years ultra-high-field magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has enabled an unprecedented view of living human brain. Brain tissue contrast in most MRI sequences is known to reflect mainly the spatial distributions of myelin and iron. These distributions have been shown to overlap significantly in many brain regions, especially in the cortex. It is of increasing interest to distinguish and identify cortical areas by their appearance in MRI, which has been shown to be feasible in vivo. Parcellation can benefit greatly from quantification of the independent contributions of iron and myelin to MRI contrast. Recent studies using susceptibility mapping claim to allow such a separation of the effects of myelin and iron in MRI. We show, using post-mortem human brain tissue, that this goal can be achieved. After MRI scanning of the block with appropriate T1 mapping and T2* weighted sequences, we section the block and apply a novel technique, proton induced X-ray emission (PIXE), to spatially map iron, phosphorus and sulfur elemental concentrations, simultaneously with 1μm spatial resolution. Because most brain phosphorus is located in myelin phospholipids, a calibration step utilizing element maps of sulfur enables semi-quantitative ex vivo mapping of myelin concentration. Combining results for iron and myelin concentration in a linear model, we have accurately modeled MRI tissue contrasts. Conversely, iron and myelin concentrations can now be estimated from appropriate MRI measurements in post-mortem brain samples.
Keywords: Magnetic susceptibility; PIXE; Phosphorus; Simulations.
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