Revisiting the Potential of Alternating Repetition Time Balanced Steady-State Free Precession Imaging of the Abdomen at 3 T

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Abstract

Objective

The aim was to investigate the value of optimized 3-dimensional alternating repetition time balanced steady-state free precession (ATR-SSFP), as an alternative to conventional segmented balanced steady-state free precession (bSSFP) with fat suppression prepulse (FS-bSSFP), in single breath-hold abdominal magnetic resonance imaging at 3 T.

Methods

Bloch simulations were performed to determine the optimal flip angle (FA = 1–90 degrees) and τ (1–3) with respect to signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and contrast-to-noise ratio (CNR) between abdominal organs for ATR-SSFP. These were corroborated by phantom measurements for different T1/T2 values (5–47) as well as in a healthy volunteer. In addition, fat suppression efficiency was studied using phantom and volunteer measurements. The effect of resolution on image quality was studied in a healthy volunteer. Using the optimal settings, ATR-SSFP images as well as FS-bSSFP images were obtained in 15 pancreatic cancer patients. For 10 structures of interest, the signal ratio with respect to the pancreas was computed and compared between both sequences. Finally, 10 items on image quality (fat suppression, artifacts, and sharpness) and tissue conspicuity (ducts, vessels, and duodenum) were scored by 2 abdominal radiologists for both image sequences.

Results

The results of simulations, phantom measurements, and volunteer measurements showed that, considering scan time, fat suppression, and clinical relevance, the ideal settings for ATR-SSFP were as follows: τ = 3; TR1 = 3.46 milliseconds; radiofrequency phase cycling 0, 180, 180, 0 degrees; and FA = 13–16 degrees (highest SNR) and 24–26 degrees (highest CNR). The optimized feasible additional settings implemented for patient scans were FA = 18 degrees and resolution = 1.4 × 1.4 × 1.4 mm3. In patients, the signal ratios of both ATR-SSFP and FS-bSSFP were comparable and had a T2-like contrast behavior, although more accentuated in ATR-SSFP. The ATR-SSFP scored significantly higher than FS-bSSFP for 9 of 10 items scored.

Conclusions

For single breath-hold abdominal imaging at 3 T, ATR-SSFP performs best with τ = 3 and an FA between 13 degrees (highest SNR) and 26 degrees (highest CNR). The scoring of both abdominal radiologists indicated that, at τ = 3, FA = 18 degrees, and 1.4 × 1.4 × 1.4 mm3 resolution, ATR-SSFP was preferred over conventional FS-bSSFP with similar settings.

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