Although a variety of MRI studies investigated the link between body mass index (BMI) and parameters of neural gray matter (GM), the technique applied in most of these studies, voxel-based morphometry (VBM), focusses on the regional GM volume, a macroscopic tissue property. Thus, the studies were not able to exploit the BMI-related information contained in the GM microstructure although PET studies suggest that these factors are important. Here, we used cerebral MR Elastography (MRE) to characterize features of tissue microstructure by evaluating the propagation of shear waves applied to the skull and to assess local tissue viscoelasticity to test the link between this parameter and BMI in 22 lean to overweight males. Unlike the majority of existing MRE studies investigating neural viscoelasticity signals averaged across large brain regions, we used the viscoelasticity of individual voxels for our experiment. Our technique revealed a negative link between BMI and viscoelasticity of two areas of the striatal reward system, i.e., right putamen (t = -8.2; pFWE-corrected = 0.005) and left globus pallidus (t = -7.1; pFWE = 0.037) which was independent of GM volume at these coordinates. Finally, comparison of BMI models based on individual voxels vs. on signals averaged across brain atlas regions demonstrates that voxel-based models explain a significantly higher proportion of variance. Consequently, our findings show that cerebral MRE is suitable to identify medically relevant microstructural tissue properties. Using a voxel-wise analysis approach, we were able to utilize the high spatial resolution of MRE for mapping BMI-related information in the brain.
Keywords: BMI; Body mass index; Magnetic resonance elastography; Quantitative MRI; Reward system; Viscoelasticity.