MESMERISED: Super-accelerating T 1 relaxometry and diffusion MRI with STEAM at 7 T for quantitative multi-contrast and diffusion imaging

Neuroimage. 2021 Jun 17;239:118285. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.118285. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

There is an increasing interest in quantitative imaging of T1, T2 and diffusion contrast in the brain due to greater robustness against bias fields and artifacts, as well as better biophysical interpretability in terms of microstructure. However, acquisition time constraints are a challenge, particularly when multiple quantitative contrasts are desired and when extensive sampling of diffusion directions, high b-values or long diffusion times are needed for multi-compartment microstructure modeling. Although ultra-high fields of 7 T and above have desirable properties for many MR modalities, the shortening T2 and the high specific absorption rate (SAR) of inversion and refocusing pulses bring great challenges to quantitative T1, T2 and diffusion imaging. Here, we present the MESMERISED sequence (Multiplexed Echo Shifted Multiband Excited and Recalled Imaging of STEAM Encoded Diffusion). MESMERISED removes the dead time in Stimulated Echo Acquisition Mode (STEAM) imaging by an echo-shifting mechanism. The echo-shift (ES) factor is independent of multiband (MB) acceleration and allows for very high multiplicative (ESxMB) acceleration factors, particularly under moderate and long mixing times. This results in super-acceleration and high time efficiency at 7 T for quantitative T1 and diffusion imaging, while also retaining the capacity to perform quantitative T2 and B1 mapping. We demonstrate the super-acceleration of MESMERISED for whole-brain T1 relaxometry with total acceleration factors up to 36 at 1.8 mm isotropic resolution, and up to 54 at 1.25 mm resolution qT1 imaging, corresponding to a 6x and 9x speedup, respectively, compared to MB-only accelerated acquisitions. We then demonstrate highly efficient diffusion MRI with high b-values and long diffusion times in two separate cases. First, we show that super-accelerated multi-shell diffusion acquisitions with 370 whole-brain diffusion volumes over 8 b-value shells up to b = 7000 s/mm2 can be generated at 2 mm isotropic in under 8 minutes, a data rate of almost a volume per second, or at 1.8 mm isotropic in under 11 minutes, achieving up to 3.4x speedup compared to MB-only. A comparison of b = 7000 s/mm2 MESMERISED against standard MB pulsed gradient spin echo (PGSE) diffusion imaging shows 70% higher SNR efficiency and greater effectiveness in supporting complex diffusion signal modeling. Second, we demonstrate time-efficient sampling of different diffusion times with 1.8 mm isotropic diffusion data acquired at four diffusion times up to 290 ms, which supports both Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) and Diffusion Kurtosis Imaging (DKI) at each diffusion time. Finally, we demonstrate how adding quantitative T2 and B1+ mapping to super-accelerated qT1 and diffusion imaging enables efficient quantitative multi-contrast mapping with the same MESMERISED sequence and the same readout train. MESMERISED extends possibilities to efficiently probe T1, T2 and diffusion contrast for multi-component modeling of tissue microstructure.

Keywords: 7 T; Accelerated imaging; Diffusion MRI; Microstructure; Multi-contrast MRI; Quantitative MRI.