High b-Value Diffusion-Weighted MRI of Normal Brain

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PurposeAs MR scanner hardware has improved, allowing for increased gradient strengths, we are able to generate higher b values for diffusion-weighted (DW) imaging. Our purpose was to evaluate the appearance of the normal brain on DW MR images as the diffusion gradient strength (“b value”) is increased from 1,000 to 3,000 s/mm 2 .MethodThree sets of echo planar images were acquired at 1.5 T in 25 normal subjects (mean age 61 years) using progressively increasing strengths of a diffusion-sensitizing gradient (corresponding to b values of 0, 1,000, and 3,000 s/mm 2 ). All other imaging parameters remained constant. Qualitative assessments of trace images were performed by two neuroradiologists, supplemented by quantitative measures of MR signal and noise in eight different anatomic regions.ResultsAs gradient strength increased from b = 1,000 to 3,000, both gray and white matter structures diminished in signal as expected based on their relative diffusion coefficients [calculated average apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) values: gray matter = 8.5 × 10 −4 mm 2 /s, white matter = 7.5 × 10 −4 mm 2 /s]. The signal-to-noise ratios for the b = 1,000 images were approximately 2.2 times higher than for the b = 3,000 images (p < 0.0001). As the strength of the diffusion-sensitizing gradient increased, white matter became progressively hyperintense to gray matter. Relative to the thalamus, for example, the average MR signal intensity of white matter structures increased by an average of 27.5%, with the densely packed white matter tracts (e.g., middle cerebellar peduncle, tegmentum, and internal capsule) increasing the most.ConclusionBrain DW images obtained at b = 3,000 appear significantly different from those obtained at b = 1,000, reflecting expected loss of signal from all areas of brain in proportion to their ADC values. Consequently, when all other imaging parameters are held constant, b = 3,000 DW images appear significantly noisier than b = 1,000 images, and white matter tracts are significantly more hyperintense than gray matter structures.

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