Ex vivo diffusion tensor MRI of human hearts: Relative effects of specimen decomposition

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Recently, diffusion tensor MRI has been utilized as a tool to reconstruct, with high resolution, the three-dimensional myofiber orientation of hearts ex vivo. However, because of limited availability of human hearts, it is common to recover specimens postmortem, after some degree of decomposition has occurred. In this study, we describe the ability to reconstruct local fiber orientation within a unique set of human hearts using diffusion tensor MRI; relative effects of specimen decomposition were also assessed. The mean diffusivity, fractional anisotropy, and principal eigenvalues (E1, E2, and E3) were measured in hearts with varying postmortem intervals from 0 to 27 days (n= 17), and local fiber orientations were reconstructed. Mean diffusivities and principal eigenvalues nonlinearly increased as a function of postmortem interval, while fractional anisotropies nonlinearly decreased. There were good correlations between postmortem intervals and changes in diffusion properties after linear transformation of the data (R2> 0.7). Thus, we determined that there were regional discontinuities in the reconstruction of local fiber orientation in hearts where postmortem intervals were greater than 3 days. Therefore, any delay in tissue fixation after death (if not properly preserved using organ transplantation techniques) will compromise measurement of fiber orientation and delineation of diseased pathology, e.g., based, in part, on fractional anisotropy.

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