Lung Parenchymal Signal Intensity in MRI: A Technical Review with Educational Aspirations Regarding Reversible Versus Irreversible Transverse Relaxation Effects in Common Pulse Sequences

Concepts Magn Reson Part A Bridg Educ Res. 2014 Mar 1;43A(2):29-53. doi: 10.1002/cmr.a.21297.


Lung parenchyma is challenging to image with proton MRI. The large air space results in ~l/5th as many signal-generating protons compared to other organs. Air/tissue magnetic susceptibility differences lead to strong magnetic field gradients throughout the lungs and to broad frequency distributions, much broader than within other organs. Such distributions have been the subject of experimental and theoretical analyses which may reveal aspects of lung microarchitecture useful for diagnosis. Their most immediate relevance to current imaging practice is to cause rapid signal decays, commonly discussed in terms of short T2* values of 1 ms or lower at typical imaging field strengths. Herein we provide a brief review of previous studies describing and interpreting proton lung spectra. We then link these broad frequency distributions to rapid signal decays, though not necessarily the exponential decays generally used to define T2* values. We examine how these decays influence observed signal intensities and spatial mapping features associated with the most prominent torso imaging sequences, including spoiled gradient and spin echo sequences. Effects of imperfect refocusing pulses on the multiple echo signal decays in single shot fast spin echo (SSFSE) sequences and effects of broad frequency distributions on balanced steady state free precession (bSSFP) sequence signal intensities are also provided. The theoretical analyses are based on the concept of explicitly separating the effects of reversible and irreversible transverse relaxation processes, thus providing a somewhat novel and more general framework from which to estimate lung signal intensity behavior in modern imaging practice.

Keywords: interstitial lung disease; lung parenchyma; magnetic resonance imaging; pulse sequence analysis; thoracic imaging.