Mapping water exchange across the blood-brain barrier using 3D diffusion-prepared arterial spin labeled perfusion MRI

Magn Reson Med. 2019 May;81(5):3065-3079. doi: 10.1002/mrm.27632. Epub 2018 Dec 18.


Purpose: To present a novel MR pulse sequence and modeling algorithm to quantify the water exchange rate (kw ) across the blood-brain barrier (BBB) without contrast, and to evaluate its clinical utility in a cohort of elderly subjects at risk of cerebral small vessel disease (SVD).

Methods: A diffusion preparation module with spoiling of non-Carr-Purcell-Meiboom-Gill signals was integrated with pseudo-continuous arterial spin labeling (pCASL) and 3D gradient and spin echo (GRASE) readout. The tissue/capillary fraction of the arterial spin labeling (ASL) signal was separated by appropriate diffusion weighting (b = 50 s/mm2 ). kw was quantified using a single-pass approximation (SPA) model with total generalized variation (TGV) regularization. Nineteen elderly subjects were recruited and underwent 2 MRIs to evaluate the reproducibility of the proposed technique. Correlation analysis was performed between kw and vascular risk factors, Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) scale, neurocognitive assessments, and white matter hyperintensity (WMH).

Results: The capillary/tissue fraction of ASL signal can be reliably differentiated with the diffusion weighting of b = 50 s/mm2 , given ~100-fold difference between the (pseudo-)diffusion coefficients of the 2 compartments. Good reproducibility of kw measurements (intraclass correlation coefficient = 0.75) was achieved. Average kw was 105.0 ± 20.6, 109.6 ± 18.9, and 94.1 ± 19.6 min-1 for whole brain, gray and white matter. kw was increased by 28.2%/19.5% in subjects with diabetes/hypercholesterolemia. Significant correlations between kw and vascular risk factors, CDR, executive/memory function, and the Fazekas scale of WMH were observed.

Conclusion: A diffusion prepared 3D GRASE pCASL sequence with TGV regularized SPA modeling was proposed to measure BBB water permeability noninvasively with good reproducibility. kw may serve as an imaging marker of cerebral SVD and associated cognitive impairment.

Keywords: arterial spin labeling (ASL); blood-brain barrier (BBB); diffusion; gradient and spin echo (GRASE); perfusion; small vessel disease (SVD); water permeability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dementia / diagnostic imaging
  • Diffusion
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Mental Status and Dementia Tests
  • Middle Aged
  • Permeability
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Risk Factors
  • Spin Labels
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging*
  • Young Adult


  • Spin Labels