Recently, T2* imaging at 7Tesla (T) MRI was shown to reveal microstructural features of the cortical myeloarchitecture thanks to an increase in contrast-to-noise ratio. However, several confounds hamper the specificity of T2* measures (iron content, blood vessels, tissues orientation). Another metric, magnetization transfer ratio (MTR), is known to also be sensitive to myelin content and thus would be an excellent complementary measure because its underlying contrast mechanisms are different than that from T2*. The goal of this study was thus to combine MTR and T2* using multivariate statistics in order to gain insights into cortical myelin content. Seven healthy subjects were scanned at 7T and 3T to obtain T2* and MTR data, respectively. A multivariate myelin estimation model (MMEM) was developed, and consists in (i) normalizing T2* and MTR values and (ii) extracting their shared information using independent component analysis (ICA). B0 orientation dependence and cortical thickness were also computed and included in the model. Results showed high correlation between MTR and T2* in the whole cortex (r=0.76, p<10(-16)), suggesting that both metrics are partly driven by a common source of contrast, here assumed to be the myelin. Average MTR and T2* were respectively 31.0+/-0.3% and 32.1+/-1.4 ms. Results of the MMEM spatial distribution showed similar trends to that from histological work stained for myelin (r=0.77, p<0.01). Significant right-left differences were detected in the primary motor cortex (p<0.05), the posterior cingulate cortex (p<0.05) and the visual cortex (p<0.05). This study demonstrates that MTR and T2* are highly correlated in the cortex. The combination of MTR, T2*, CT and B0 orientation may be a useful means to study cortical myeloarchitecture with more specificity than using any of the individual methods. The MMEM framework is extendable to other contrasts such as T1 and diffusion MRI.
Keywords: B0 orientation; Brodmann; ICA; MTR; Myeloarchitecture; T(2)*.
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