Diffusion tractography of post-mortem human brains: optimization and comparison of spin echo and steady-state free precession techniques.
Miller KL., McNab JA., Jbabdi S., Douaud G.
Diffusion imaging of post-mortem brains could provide valuable data for validation of diffusion tractography of white matter pathways. Long scans (e.g., overnight) may also enable high-resolution diffusion images for visualization of fine structures. However, alterations to post-mortem tissue (T2 and diffusion coefficient) present significant challenges to diffusion imaging with conventional diffusion-weighted spin echo (DW-SE) acquisitions, particularly for imaging human brains on clinical scanners. Diffusion-weighted steady-state free precession (DW-SSFP) has been proposed as an alternative acquisition technique to ameliorate this tradeoff in large-bore clinical scanners. In this study, both DWSE and DW-SSFP are optimized for use in fixed white matter on a clinical 3-Tesla scanner. Signal calculations predict superior performance from DW-SSFP across a broad range of protocols and conditions. DW-SE and DW-SSFP data in a whole, post-mortem human brain are compared for 6- and 12-hour scan durations. Tractography is performed in major projection, commissural and association tracts (corticospinal tract, corpus callosum, superior longitudinal fasciculus and cingulum bundle). The results demonstrate superior tract-tracing from DW-SSFP data, with 6-hour DW-SSFP data performing as well as or better than 12-hour DW-SE scans. These results suggest that DW-SSFP may be a preferred method for diffusion imaging of post-mortem human brains. The ability to estimate multiple fibers in imaging voxels is also demonstrated, again with greater success in DW-SSFP data.