Detecting Differences in Parenchymal and Vascular Oxygenation in the Lungs with Quantitative Susceptibility Mapping
Teckla G Akinyi1,2, Jinbang Guo1,3, Jason C Woods1,3, Chunlei Liu4, Luke Xie, and Zackary I Cleveland1,2

1Center for Pulmonary Imaging Research, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH, United States, 2Biomedical Engineering, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, United States, 3Department of Physics, Washington University, Saint Louis, MO, United States, 4Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, University of California -Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, United States


Quantitative susceptibility (QSM) mapping measures the spatial distribution of magnetic susceptibility, and is thus sensitive to the chemical and microstructure properties of tissues. Here we have combined QSM with multi-echo, radial ultra-short echo-time (UTE) MRI to assess regional variations in lung susceptibility in mice. We demonstrate QSM can differentiate between lung parenchyma, which is paramagnetic due to the presence of molecular O2 and pulmonary vasculature which is diamagnetic. Moreover, we demonstrated that the susceptibility differences between these two lung regions increases with increased oxygen partial pressure, demonstrating the approach’s sensitivity to regional pulmonary function.


Quantitative susceptibility mapping (QSM) is an MRI-based technique that measures the spatial distribution of magnetic susceptibility, thus providing novel information about the molecular and microstructural composition of biological tissues. Although much QSM work as focused on studies of the brain, there is increasing interest in applying this technique other body parts including kidney, spine, liver, vasculature 1, and more recently the lungs2,3. In the lungs, magnetic susceptibilities differences are generated by the differences in blood oxygenation, the presence of gas-tissue interfaces at the alveolar surface, and variations in oxygen partial pressure4, 5. Here we demonstrate that QSM mapping of the lungs in vivo is sensitive to variations in pulmonary structure and function. Specifically, we demonstrate that QSM can detect significant magnetic susceptibility differences between the pulmonary vasculature and lung parenchyma and that these difference increase when O2 concentration is increased due to both increased O2 partial pressure and increased blood oxygenation in the pulmonary vessels.


Animals: Six adult C57BL/6 mice (~25g) were anesthetized with isoflurane mixed with medical grade air (20% O2) then and then with 100% O2. A pressure pad monitored respiratory motion; while body temperature was maintained at ~36°C with flowing warm air (SAI Inc).

MRI: Using a 7T Bruker Biospec system and a home-built quadrature birdcage coil, respiratory-gated images were collected at end-expiration using an RF-spoiled, 3D short multi-echo radial6 sequence with interleaved golden-angle trajectories Acquisition parameters prescribed for each of the imaging conditions (100% or 25 % O2) included: radial views=51472; TR=9 ms; TEs=80, 200, 300, 400 and 500 μs; BW=278 kHz, FOV=40×40×60 mm3, matrix=128×128×128, resolution=313×313×469 μm3.

Reconstruction and QSM: The k-space data were reconstructed and re-gridded using an iterative algorithm 6, 7, 8, and image phase was calculated using Laplacian-based phase unwrapping and background phase removal algorithm called V-SHARP 9.The reconstruction algorithm STAR-QSM was used to invert the tissue phase 10. Finally, the QSM maps obtained from each of the echoes were linearly summed to enhance susceptibility SNR.

Image Analysis: Amira software was used to manually segment the lung volume from thoracic cavity, and segment the parenchyma from the vasculature using seeded region-growing (Figure 1). An ROI in the skeletal muscle was used to provide reference susceptibility. All segmentation was performed on 500-μs TE magnitude images. To minimize partial volume effects, parenchymal and vascular masks were subjects to morphological erosion using a 4-pixel-diameter structuring element, and only data within these eroded masks were used in subsequent data processing. All measurements were made in MATLAB and statistical testing (paired t-testing) was performed in R.

Results and Discussion

Consistent with previous observations2, 3, positive susceptibility signal was observed from the lungs relative to surrounding tissues. Within the lung volume, however, significant differences were observed between the parenchyma and pulmonary vasculature (p < 0.001), with the mean volume in the parenchyma being paramagnetic (1.3 ppm) and the mean in the vasculature being diamagnetic (- 0.8 ppm). The whole-lung mean susceptibility signal increased by ~10% (0.13 ppm) when animals breathed 100% O2 rather than air. Additionally, the susceptibility difference between parenchyma and vasculature increased when animals breathed 100% O2 (p = 0.003, Figure 2), due to increased paramagnetic O2 content in the pulmonary airspaces and a shift from paramagnetic deoxyhemoglobin to diamagnetic oxyhemoglobin in the blood.

We have demonstrated that QSM using radial UTE MRI is able to distinguish the paramagnetic pulmonary parenchyma from the adjacent, diamagnetic pulmonary vasculature and from non-pulmonary tissues outside the lungs. Additionally, we have demonstrated that the susceptibility differences observed between vessels and parenchyma increase with increasing oxygen partial pressure. This suggests that lung QSM has potential to quantify fundamental aspects of pulmonary physiology (e.g., blood oxygenation efficiency and regional ventilation-perfusion matching) and to be used in contrast-free pulmonary angiography applications.


QSM mapping of the lung is sensitive to fundamental aspects of lung function. As such, it has the potential to become a powerful tool for studying a wide range of pulmonary diseases, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, where lung structure and function are pathologically altered. Moreover, because QSM provides this sensitivity without the need for exogenous contrast agents such as fluorinated or hyperpolarized gases, it has high potential for wide-spread clinical translation.


We would like to thank Richard Scott Dunn for technical assistance during the experiments. Funding from the following is greatly appreciated: NIH/NHLBI R00-HL-111217-03 and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Trustee Award & Procter Scholar (TAPS) Program.


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Quantitative Susceptibility Mapping of the lungs. A. Slice from a 3D radial UTE Magnitude image of a mouse breathing room air. B. QSM summed echo image obtained at the same anatomical location showing the lungs contain high susceptibility regions relative to skeletal muscle. C. Pulmonary vessels (white) and lung parenchyma (blue) segmented from the QSM map in B, demonstrating the diamagnetic character of the lung vasculature and the paramagnetic character of the gas exchange regions.

Regional variation in lung QSM in individual animals. A. Relative the vasculature, lung parenchyma displayed significantly higher magnetic susceptibility in all animals when breathing room air (p < 0.001) B. When breathing 100% O2, the susceptibility difference between vasculature and parenchyma increased by 20% O2 (p = 0.003).

Proc. Intl. Soc. Mag. Reson. Med. 25 (2017)