Ultrahigh-Resolution Imaging of the Human Brain with Phase-Cycled Balanced Steady-State Free Precession at 7 T


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Abstract

ObjectivesThe objectives of this study were to acquire ultra-high resolution images of the brain using balanced steady-state free precession (bSSFP) at 7 T and to identify the potential utility of this sequence.Materials and MethodsEight volunteers participated in this study after providing informed consent. Each volunteer was scanned with 8 phase cycles of bSSFP at 0.4-mm isotropic resolution using 0.5 number of excitations and 2-dimensional parallel acceleration of 1.75 × 1.75. Each phase cycle required 5 minutes of scanning, with pauses between the phase cycles allowing short periods of rest. The individual phase cycles were aligned and then averaged. The same volunteers underwent scanning using 3-dimensional (3D) multiecho gradient recalled echo at 0.8-mm isotropic resolution, 3D Cube T2 at 0.7-mm isotropic resolution, and thin-section coronal oblique T2-weighted fast spin echo at 0.22 × 0.22 × 2.0-mm resolution for comparison. Two neuroradiologists assessed image quality and potential research and clinical utility.ResultsThe volunteers generally tolerated the scan sessions well, and composite high-resolution bSSFP images were produced for each volunteer. Rater analysis demonstrated that bSSFP had a superior 3D visualization of the microarchitecture of the hippocampus, very good contrast to delineate the borders of the subthalamic nucleus, and relatively good B1 homogeneity throughout. In addition to an excellent visualization of the cerebellum, subtle details of the brain and skull base anatomy were also easier to identify on the bSSFP images, including the line of Gennari, membrane of Liliequist, and cranial nerves. Balanced steady-state free precession had a strong iron contrast similar to or better than the comparison sequences. However, cortical gray-white contrast was significantly better with Cube T2 and T2-weighted fast spin echo.ConclusionsBalanced steady-state free precession can facilitate ultrahigh-resolution imaging of the brain. Although total imaging times are long, the individually short phase cycles can be acquired separately, improving examination tolerability. These images may be beneficial for studies of the hippocampus, iron-containing structures such as the subthalamic nucleus and line of Gennari, and the basal cisterns and their contents.

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