The increased T1 relaxation times at 3.0 Tesla lead to a reduced T1 contrast, requiring adaptation of imaging protocols for high magnetic fields. This prospective study assesses the performance of three techniques for T1-weighted imaging (T1w) at 3.0 T with regard to gray-white differentiation and contrast-to-noise-ratio (CNR).
Thirty-one patients were examined at a 3.0 T system with axial T1 w inversion recovery (IR), spin-echo (SE) and gradient echo (GE) sequences and after contrast enhancement (CE) with CE-SE and CE-GE sequences. For qualitative analysis, the images were ranked with regard to artifacts, gray-white differentiation, image noise and overall diagnostic quality. For quantitative analysis, the CNR was calculated, and cortex and basal ganglia were compared with the white matter.
In the qualitative analysis, IR was judged superior to SE and GE for gray-white differentiation, image noise and overall diagnostic quality, but inferior to the GE sequence with regard to artifacts. CE-GE proved superior to CE-SE in all categories. In the quantitative analysis, CNR of the basal ganglia was highest for IR, followed by GE and SE. For the CNR of the cortex, no significant difference was found between IR (16.9) and GE (15.4) but both were superior to the SE (9.4). The CNR of the cortex was significantly higher for CE-GE compared to CE-SE (12.7 vs. 7.6, p < 0.001), but the CNR of the basal ganglia was not significantly different.
For unenhanced T1 w imaging at 3.0 T, the IR technique is, despite increased artifacts, the method of choice due to its superior gray-white differentiation and best overall image quality. For CE-studies, GE sequences are recommended. For cerebral imaging, SE sequences give unsatisfactory results at 3.0 T.