Purpose: To demonstrate that ultrashort echo time (UTE) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can achieve computed tomography (CT)-like quantification of lung parenchyma in free-breathing, non-sedated neonates. Because infant CTs are used sparingly, parenchymal disease evaluation via UTE MRI has potential for translational impact.
Materials and methods: Two neonatal control cohorts without suspected pulmonary morbidities underwent either a research UTE MRI (n = 5; 1.5T) or a clinically-ordered CT (n = 9). Whole-lung means and anterior-posterior gradients of UTE-measured image intensity (arbitrary units, au, normalized to muscle) and CT-measured density (g/cm3 ) were compared (Mann-Whitney U-test). Separately, a diseased neonatal cohort (n = 5) with various pulmonary morbidities underwent both UTE MRI and CT. UTE intensity and CT density were compared with Spearman correlations within ∼33 anatomically matched regions of interest (ROIs) in each diseased subject, spanning low- to high-density tissues. Radiological classifications were evaluated in all ROIs, with mean UTE intensities and CT densities compared in each classification.
Results: In control subjects, whole-lung UTE intensities (0.51 ± 0.04 au) were similar to CT densities (0.44 ± 0.09 g/cm3 ) (P = 0.062), as were UTE (0.021 ± 0.020 au/cm) and CT (0.034 ± 0.024 [g/cm3 ]/cm) anterior-posterior gradients (P = 0.351). In diseased subjects' ROIs, significant correlations were observed between UTE and CT (P ≤0.007 in each case). Relative differences between UTE and CT were small in all classifications (4-25%).
Conclusion: These results demonstrate a strong association between UTE image intensity and CT density, both between whole-lung tissue in control patients and regional radiological pathologies in diseased patients. This indicates the potential for UTE MRI to longitudinally evaluate neonatal pulmonary disease and to provide visualization of pathologies similar to CT, without sedation/anesthesia or ionizing radiation.
Level of evidence: 3 Technical Efficacy: Stage 2 J. Magn. Reson. Imaging 2017;46:992-1000.
Keywords: chest CT; lung parenchymal density; neonates; pulmonary MRI; ultrashort echo time.
© 2017 International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine.