Magnetisation transfer (MT) imaging of the central nervous system has provided further insight into the pathophysiology of neurological disease. However, the use of this method to study the lower spinal cord has been technically challenging, despite the important role of this region, not only for motor control of the lower limbs, but also for the neural control of lower urinary tract, sexual and bowel functions. In this study, the feasibility of obtaining reliable grey matter (GM) and white matter (WM) magnetisation transfer ratio (MTR) measurements within the lumbosacral enlargement (LSE) was investigated in ten healthy volunteers using a clinical 3T MRI system. The mean cross-sectional area of the LSE (LSE-CSA) and the mean GM area (LSE-GM-CSA) were first obtained by means of image segmentation and tissue-specific (i.e. WM and GM) MTR measurements within the LSE were subsequently obtained. The reproducibility of the segmentation method and MTR measurements was assessed from repeated measurements and their % coefficient of variation (%COV). Mean (± SD) LSE-CSA across 10 healthy subjects was 59.3 (± 8.4) mm2 and LSE-GM-CSA was 17.0 (± 3.1) mm2. The mean intra- and inter-rater % COV for measuring the LSE-CSA were 0.8% and 2.3%, respectively and for the LSE-GM-CSA were 3.8% and 5.4%, respectively. Mean (± SD) WM-MTR was 43.2 (± 4.4) and GM-MTR was 40.9 (± 4.3). The mean scan-rescan % COV for measuring WM-MTR was 4.6% and for GM-MTR was 3.8%. Using a paired t-test, a statistically significant difference was identified between WM-MTR and GM-MTR in the LSE (p<0.0001). This pilot study has shown that it is possible to obtain reliable tissue-specific MTR measurements within the LSE using a clinical MR system at 3T. The MTR acquisition and analysis protocol presented in this study can be used in future investigations of intrinsic spinal cord diseases that affect the LSE.
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