Background: Axonal myelination is an important maturation process in the developing brain. Increasing myelin content correlates with the longitudinal relaxation rate (R1=1/T1) in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Objective: By using magnetization-prepared 2 rapid acquisition gradient echoes (MP2RAGE) on a 3-T MRI system, we provide R1 values and myelination rates for infants and young children.
Materials and methods: Average R1 values in white and grey matter regions in 94 children without pathological MRI findings (age range: 3 months to 6 years) were measured and fitted by a saturating-exponential growth model. For comparison, R1 values of 36 children with different brain pathologies are presented. The findings were related to a qualitative evaluation using T2, magnetization-prepared rapid acquisition gradient echo (MP-RAGE) and MP2RAGE.
Results: R1 changes rapidly in the first 16 months of life, then much slower thereafter. R1 is highest in pre-myelinated structures in the youngest subjects, such as the posterior limb of the internal capsule (0.74-0.76±0.04 s-1) and lowest for the corpus callosum (0.37-0.44±0.03 s-1). The myelination rate is fastest in the corpus callosum and slowest in the deep grey matter. R1 is decreased in hypo- and dysmyelination disorders. Myelin maturation is clearly visible on MP2RAGE, especially in the first year of life.
Conclusion: MP2RAGE permits a quantitative R1 mapping method with an examination time of approximately 6 min. The age-dependent R1 values for children without MRI-identified brain pathologies are well described by a saturating-exponential function with time constants depending on the investigated brain region. This model can serve as a reference for this age group and to search for indications of subtle pathologies. Moreover, the MP2RAGE sequence can also be used for the qualitative assessment of myelinated structures.