In-vivo brain viscoelasticity measured by magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) is a sensitive imaging marker for long-term biophysical changes in brain tissue due to aging and disease; however, it is still unknown whether MRE can reveal short-term periodic alterations of brain viscoelasticity related to cerebral arterial pulsation (CAP). We developed cardiac-gated steady-state MRE (ssMRE) with spiral readout and stroboscopic sampling of continuously induced mechanical vibrations in the brain at 20, 31.25, and 40 Hz frequencies. Maps of magnitude |G*| and phase ϕ of the complex shear modulus were generated by multifrequency dual visco-elasto inversion with a temporal resolution of 40 ms over 4 s. The method was tested in 12 healthy volunteers. During cerebral systole, |G*| decreased by 6.6 ± 1.9% (56 ± 22 Pa, p < 0.001, mean ± SD), whereas ϕ increased by 0.5 ± 0.5% (0.006 ± 0.005 rad, p = 0.002). The effect size of CAP-induced softening slightly decreased with age by 0.10 ± 0.05% per year (p = 0.04), indicating lower cerebral vascular compliance in older individuals. Our data show for the first time that the brain softens and becomes more viscous during systole, possibly due to an effect of CAP-induced arterial expansion and increased blood volume on effective-medium tissue properties. This sensitivity to vascular-solid tissue interactions makes ssMRE potentially useful for detection of cerebral vascular disease.
Keywords: Cerebral arterial pulsation; multifrequency dual elasto-visco inversion; spiral multifrequency magnetic resonance elastography; steady state; viscoelasticity.