The aim of this study was to compare quantitative and semiquantitative parameters (signal-to-noise ratio [SNR], contrast-to-noise ratio [CNR], image quality, diagnostic confidence) from a standard brain magnetic resonance imaging examination encompassing common neurological disorders such as demyelinating disease, gliomas, cerebrovascular disease, and epilepsy, with comparable sequence protocols and acquisition times at 3 T and at 7 T.
Materials and Methods
Ten healthy volunteers and 4 subgroups of 40 patients in total underwent comparable magnetic resonance protocols with standard diffusion-weighted imaging, 2D and 3D turbo spin echo, 2D and 3D gradient echo and susceptibility-weighted imaging of the brain (10 sequences) at 3 T and 7 T. The subgroups comprised patients with either lesional (n = 5) or nonlesional (n = 4) epilepsy, intracerebral tumors (n = 11), demyelinating disease (n = 11) (relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis [MS, n = 9], secondary progressive MS [n = 1], demyelinating disease not further specified [n = 1]), or chronic cerebrovascular disorders [n = 9]). For quantitative analysis, SNR and CNR were determined. For a semiquantitative assessment of the diagnostic confidence, a 10-point scale diagnostic confidence score (DCS) was applied. Two experienced radiologists with additional qualification in neuroradiology independently assessed, blinded to the field strength, 3 pathology-specific imaging criteria in each of the 4 disease groups and rated their diagnostic confidence. The overall image quality was semiquantitatively assessed using a 4-point scale taking into account whether diagnostic decision making was hampered by artifacts or not.
Without correction for spatial resolution, SNR was higher at 3 T except in the T2 SPACE 3D, DWI single shot, and DIR SPACE 3D sequences. The SNR corrected by the ratio of 3 T/7 T voxel sizes was higher at 7 T than at 3 T in 10 of 11 sequences (all except for T1 MP2RAGE 3D).
In CNR, there was a wide variation between sequences and patient cohorts, but average CNR values were broadly similar at 3 T and 7 T.
DCS values for all 4 pathologic entities were higher at 7 T than at 3 T. The DCS was significantly higher at 7 T for diagnosis and exclusion of cortical lesions in vascular disease. A tendency to higher DCS at 7 T for cortical lesions in MS was observed, and for the depiction of a central vein and iron deposits within MS lesions. Despite motion artifacts, DCS values were higher at 7 T for the diagnosis and exclusion of hippocampal sclerosis in mesial temporal lobe epilepsy (improved detection of the hippocampal subunits). Interrater agreement was 69.7% at 3 T and 93.3% at 7 T. There was no significant difference in the overall image quality score between 3 T and 7 T taking into account whether diagnostic decision making was hampered by artifacts or not.
Ultra–high-field magnetic resonance imaging at 7 T compared with 3 T yielded an improved diagnostic confidence in the most frequently encountered neurologic disorders. Higher spatial resolution and contrast were identified as the main contributory factors.