Introduction: High blood velocity can cause rapid erythrocyte transit through capillaries, reducing efficiency of oxygen delivery to tissue (capillary arteriovenous shunting). Arterial spin labeling (ASL) is an MRI technique that utilizes magnetic labeling of arterial blood water for CBF quantitation. Labeled water that traverses capillaries without exchanging with tissue leads to hyperintense venous signal indicative of arteriovenous shunting. We hypothesized that venous hyperintensity is present in sickle cell anemia (SCA) adults, correlates with flow velocity, and corresponds with clinical impairment and oxygen extraction fraction (OEF).
Methods: ASL for shunting determination, TRUST for OEF measurement, phase contrast angiography for velocity assessment, and FLAIR / MRA for infarct / vasculopathy evaluation were performed at 3T in adults with SCA (n=36) and age- and race-matched controls (n=11). Three reviewers assessed for hyperintensity in the superior sagittal sinus on ASL images (Fig) and assigned scores of 0 (none), 1 (mild, focal), 2 (significant, focal), or 3 (significant, diffuse). Shunting scores were compared with the presence of clinical impairment (prior infarcts, stenosis>50%, or severe disease requiring transfusions) and OEF.
Results: Interobserver agreement was excellent (Fleiss’ κ=0.91). Consensus shunting score in SCA adults (1.2±1.1) was higher (p<0.01) than controls (0.1±0.3), Median age 27.6 y, 57% F. Elevated shunting scores were observed in SCA adults with (1.23±1.07) vs. without (1.07±1.16) clinical impairment. A trend (p=0.068) for elevated OEF was observed in those with shunting scores ≥2 (0.44±0.07) vs. those with shunting scores ≤1 (0.40±0.07). Cervical flow velocity was elevated in subjects with shunting scores ≥2 (30.2±4.8 cm/s) vs. ≤1 (25.3±4.8 cm/s).
Conclusion: Venous hyperintensity in ASL images may indicate capillary arteriovenous shunting and may reflect higher clinical impairment and elevated OEF.