Brain volume change measured from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides a widely used and useful in vivo measure of irreversible tissue loss. These measurements, however, can be influenced by reversible factors such as shifts in brain water content. Given the strong effect of water on T2 relaxation, we investigated whether an estimate of T2 relaxation time would correlate with brain volume changes induced by physiologically manipulating hydration status. We used a clinically feasible estimate of T2 ("pseudo-T2") computed from a dual turbo spin-echo MRI sequence and correlated pseudo-T2 changes to percent brain volume changes in 12 healthy subjects after dehydration overnight (16-hour thirsting) and rehydration (drinking 1.5 L of water). We found that the brain volume significantly increased between the dehydrated and rehydrated states (mean brain volume change = 0.36%, p = 0.0001) but did not change significantly during the dehydration interval (mean brain volume change = 0.04%, p = 0.57). The changes in brain volume and pseudo-T2 significantly correlated with each other, with marginal and conditional correlations (R (2)) of 0.44 and 0.65, respectively. Our results show that pseudo-T2 may be used in conjunction with the measures of brain volume to distinguish reversible water fluctuations and irreversible brain tissue loss (atrophy) and to investigate disease mechanisms related to neuro-inflammation, e.g., in multiple sclerosis, where edema-related water fluctuations may occur with disease activity and anti-inflammatory treatment.
Keywords: Brain volumetry; Brain water content; T2 relaxation time.