The capability of detecting small vessels beyond the conventional MRI sensitivity using iron‐based contrast agent enhanced susceptibility weighted imaging
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Imaging brain microvasculature is important in cerebrovascular diseases. However, there is still a lack of non-invasive, non-radiation, and whole-body imaging techniques to investigate them. The aim of this study is to develop an ultra-small superparamagnetic iron oxide (USPIO) enhanced susceptibility weighted imaging (SWI) method for imaging micro-vasculature in both animal (~10 μm in rat) and human brain. We hypothesized that the USPIO-SWI technique could improve the detection sensitivity of the diameter of small subpixel vessels 10-fold compared with conventional MRI methods. Computer simulations were first performed with a double-cylinder digital model to investigate the theoretical basis for this hypothesis. The theoretical results were verified using in vitro phantom studies and in vivo rat MRI studies (n = 6) with corresponding ex vivo histological examinations. Additionally, in vivo human studies (n = 3) were carried out to demonstrate the translational power of the USPIO-SWI method. By directly comparing the small vessel diameters of an in vivo rat using USPIO-SWI with the small vessel diameters of the corresponding histological slide using laser scanning confocal microscopy, 13.3-fold and 19.9-fold increases in SWI apparent diameter were obtained with 5.6 mg Fe/kg and 16.8 mg Fe/kg ferumoxytol, respectively. The USPIO-SWI method exhibited its excellent ability to detect small vessels down to about 10 μm diameter in rat brain. The in vivo human study unveiled hidden arterioles and venules and demonstrated its potential in clinical practice. Theoretical modeling simulations and in vitro phantom studies also confirmed a more than 10-fold increase in the USPIO-SWI apparent diameter compared with the actual small vessel diameter size. It is feasible to use SWI blooming effects induced by USPIO to detect small vessels (down to 10 μm in diameter for rat brain), well beyond the spatial resolution limit of conventional MRI methods. The USPIO-SWI method demonstrates higher potential in cerebrovascular disease investigations.
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